How do you know if you are a victim of identity theft?
Two Tri-City men pleaded innocent Wednesday to allegations they deposited at least 56 bad checks on 20 different accounts, then immediately made withdrawals through cash machines.
Jaden D. Scheuerlein, 23, and Aaron D. Lighthall, 20, face felony charges in Benton County Superior Court for their alleged roles in the sophisticated scheme.
The men occasionally used unwitting friends to help deposit the checks, which were either stolen and linked to closed accounts or on new accounts with insufficient funds, according to court documents.
The investigation revealed that the suspects deposited nearly $54,800 in bad checks and withdrew $9,990 in cash over a three-month period, documents show.
Scheuerlein and Lighthall both are charged with first-degree theft, first-degree identity theft, unlawful possession of payment instruments and forgery.
The theft charge includes the aggravating circumstance that it was a major economic offense, meaning it involved multiple victims, multiple incidents per victim, a substantial loss and a high-degree of sophistication.
Lighthall also is charged with possessing fentanyl pills at the time of his arrest.
Their trials are set for Feb. 4.
Kennewick police were alerted to the alleged scheme in early October by staff at HAPO Community Credit Union.
Investigators tracked it back to Scheuerlein and Lighthall, and discovered that Gesa Credit Union also had been scammed, court documents said.
Scheuerlein admitted making six separate deposits and immediately withdrawing cash from ATMs on four accounts, documents said. He claimed that his co-defendant handled the other accounts.
Lighthall told investigators that Scheuerlein connected him with another man who explained how the scheme worked. Scheuerlein then gave him checks, and he used them to get $15,000 — pocketing about $7,000 himself, court documents said.
The owner of 23 of the bad checks told police his checkbook had been stolen, but he never reported it since the account was closed.
Ten of his checks used in the scheme were made payable to Scheuerlein for $6,330, and four of them to Lighthall for $2,300, documents said.
Lighthall initially was picked up on an arrest warrant in mid-November. He was found with a $500 check payable to himself on the account of a woman, who later told police it likely was stolen when he visited her house.
Lighthall was arrested again on Nov. 29, this time at Key Bank on Canal Drive after police received a tip he was about to pass another bad check, court documents said. A man with Lighthall said he was there to help cash a check in his own account.
This time, Lighthall had four checks from the account of a couple, who reported they’d been lost or stolen during a recent move. The owner told police that two of the checks recently were forged and cashed, and that they did not know Lighthall, documents said.
Scheuerlein was arrested that same day at a West Yellowstone Avenue address listed on numerous checks deposited during the scheme.
He allegedly was in possession of an $800 check payable to Jayden Shoreline and a $570 check to Jay Scheuerlein.
On Wednesday, Lighthall asked a judge to reduce his $20,000 bail, but the request was denied.
Scheuerlein will return to court Thursday to address his $20,000 bail.