Merchants discover bogus gift certificates circulating in downtown Warwick

Merchant Guild already seeking ways to secure this popular way to give and to shop local

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  • Photos by Roger Gavan From left, Tom Roberts, president of the Merchant Guild and owner of Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe, Mary Beth Schlichting, owner of Frazzleberies, and Corrine Iurato, manager of Peck's Wines & Spirits, note the differences between the fraudulent and real Merchant gift certificates.

  • Original certificates like this are bright green.

  • The bogus certificates like this are copies of legitimate gift certificates issued by Newhard's, dated 12/8/16 and bear the numbers 74533 and 74528. The color is closer to teal than the original green and the paper is heavier.

— Last week several storekeepers in downtown Warwick discovered that some of the merchant gift certificates they had accepted in trade were photocopies and of no value.

The Warwick Merchant Guild Gift Certificates are routinely sold in $5 and $10 denominations by participating merchants, including Peck's Wines & Spirits, Newhard's and Frazzleberries. And they are redeemable at more than 60 participating merchants, restaurants, wineries and farm markets.

No one knows exactly how many of the bogus certificates were used or will be used but the Merchant Guild plans to hold an emergency meeting to alert its members and discuss various solutions to the problem

Corrine Iurato, manager of Peck's Wines & Spirits, was first to discover the scam.

"A woman gave me two $10 certificates to purchase a bottle of wine," she said. "I was suspicious about the color and feel of the paper but she told me that she was a secretary at a school and had received them as a gift. I was busy and I accepted them."

When Iurato realized they might be counterfeit she turned them over to the police along with a photo of the woman from the store's surveillance camera."

It could not be learned as the paper went to the printer this week the amount of gift certificates that were issued this holiday season and how much had been redeemed.

'We're on to them'Chief Thomas McGovern Jr. reported that all of the incidents are currently under investigation.

Tom Roberts, president of the Merchant Guild and owner of Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe, as well as Tim Mullally, co-owner of Style Counsel, also reported that they were victims of this scam.

And there may be more bogus certificates in their cash drawers as well as in that of other shopkeepers who are not even aware of the problem.

"The good news," said Mullally, "is the criminal or criminals will now learn that we are on to them and the police are involved."

What's the difference?All of the bogus certificates have been for $10. And so far they are copies of legitimate gift certificates issued by Newhard's, dated 12/8/16 and bearing the numbers 74533 and 74528. The color is closer to teal than the original bright green and the paper is heavier.

SolutionsSeveral solutions to the problem are already being considered.

Mullally suggested that a Merchant Guild seal, similar to a Notary seal, could be used to create a raised impression on all remaining and future certificates.

Mary Beth Schlichting, owner of Frazzleberies, has not discovered any bogus certificates in her store thus far. But as a strong advocate for their availability and use, she checked with Warwick Press and learned that an invisible watermark could be used that would prevent people from being able to make fake copies.

At this writer's request Warwick resident Bob Baier, a forensic document examiner who testifies in court regarding forgeries and also trains Orange County law enforcement in seven different areas, visited Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe where he examined the fraudulent and real certificates.

Baier reported that there are more than 15 security features that can be done to insure safety in the future ranging from watermarks to anti-copying marks such as those on checks and diplomas to latent images.

"But what has to be considered in this situation," he said, "is the ease of the change, a cost effective method and non-disposal of the hundreds if not thousands of gift certificates already printed."

He suggested that the best way to immediately and completely stop the problem and one which is totally cost effective was to purchase Holographic 3/4 inch stickers which would be placed on the top white copy of each certificate. The Holographic sticker cannot be photocopied and if someone attempts to remove the sticker it will disintegrate.

In the meantime, all shopkeepers and restaurants that accept gift certificates are urged to be cautious.

- Roger Gavan

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