A 29-year-old woman who said she found a job through LinkedIn, a professional networking web site, is now facing felony fraud charges for trying to cash a fake check.
Tara Vaughns said she has been victimized by a criminal posing as an employer, but the Allen Police Department told a very different story. The case is now in the hands of a grand jury in Collin County.
Vaughns said she moved to Texas a few months ago from South Florida to live near her family. She said she had purchased a monthly subscription to LinkedIn’s premium job seeker service to help her on the job hunt, and finally found one.
“I was real excited,” Vaughns said.
For $500 a week she could work at home as a personal assistant. She said her first order of business was to purchase a computer, printer and Internet services so she could set up shop and work for her new employer.
“I researched it, found the best prices,” said Vaughns. “And I sent her the information and she was satisfied with it.”
Emails Vaughns provided to NBC 5's Consumer Unit shows the equipment, minus rebates, totaled less than $1,000, but the check she received from this employer was $2,600. Vaughns said she was suspicious.
She gave NBC 5 a copy of what she said is an image of the check. It had a New York address, a Florida phone number and it was sent from Chicago. There were also various type faces. Vaughns said she called the bank listed on the check and that call eased those fears.
But when she pulled into the drive-thru to cash it, a bank associate told her it was counterfeit.
“He was like, ‘We have to hold this check for a fraud investigation,’” she said.
Vaughns said she immediately emailed the employer from the drive-thru lane.
“I attempted to cash the check and its (sic) not a good check,” Vaughns wrote, signing the email “concerned and embarrassed.”
“I drive off and then I get bombarded by the Allen Task Force of seven police officers with their guns drawn,” Vaughns said. “I was just like, in shock. I didn’t know what to do.”
She said she was booked, taken to jail and bonded out five days later.
“It was so embarrassing, because I never did anything,” Vaughns said as she cried.
She said after her arrest she never heard from her employer again.
A Large Criminal Enterprise
Allen police believe Vaughns could be connected to a multi-state fraud ring now operating in North Texas.
“We have indications, and by action, that this is involved in a large criminal enterprise that covers many states,” said Sgt. Jon Felty, the public information officer for the Allen Police Department, who added only three officers, not seven, with no guns drawn, were at the scene.
Felty then described how the ring operates. He said men typically break into cars to steal credit cards or checks before being passed off to females who actually use the credit cards and cash the checks.
There have been arrests in Texas, but the operation isn’t based in this area.
“As best as we can tell it’s based in the state of Florida,” said Felty.
That’s where Vaughns lived before moving to Texas.
Police said there are other coincidences also. According to police, Vaughns pulled into the lane of the drive-thru that is furthest from the teller, where individuals are harder to see clearly and identify by sight. Vaughns drove a light-colored car with a Florida license plate, just as police said others involved in the fraud have done, and that she was also carrying $5,000 in cash.
Vaughns told NBC 5 she was going to buy a car that afternoon with the cash, which she withdrew from her IRA and other personal accounts. She showed NBC 5 those receipts.
“The receipts are inconsistent with her story,” said Felty.
He also said Vaughns’ supposed employer did not exist and the email correspondences and LinkedIn job searches were fabricated.
LinkedIn declined to comment on this case, but did provide a statement via email.
“LinkedIn's policy is to not allow fake profiles,” wrote LinkedIn spokeswoman Krista Canfield. “If we're made aware of a false profile, we take appropriate action by restricting, suspending or terminating/deleting that account.”
Canfield said the company’s policy is outlined in the user agreement and members can report inappropriate posts or profiles.
Vaughns said she never did contact LinkedIn to report what had happened.
“All I know is she passed a forged document and the only victim in this case is the elderly gentleman in New York State who’s out over $50,000 because the bank account that she had on that check is his bank account,” said Felty.
But Vaughns’ attorney, Scott Edgett, said she too is a victim.
“She has nothing to hide,” Edgett said. “She did everything that she was supposed to do for her job, and she’s the one that sat in jail for five days and is facing a third-degree felony conviction.”
If the grand jury finds there’s enough evidence to indict Vaughns, and the case moves forward, she could ultimately face up to 10 years in prison.
“I left a really good situation to come to Texas for what I thought would be a bigger life and it’s just been a nightmare,” Vaughns sobbed. “I can’t wait to leave here and I’m stuck because of this.”