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SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- This sounds like the start of a bad joke: 'A man walks into a post office with a $49,000 check...' But there's nothing funny about what happened next, because he duped the government.

Melinda Martel is customer service manager at the post office where the staff noticed a man acting strangely. He asked to buy several rolls of stamps and cash his check, so the clerk asked him for identification. Martel said, "He's insisting that he's in a hurry. He's insisting that he doesn't get questioned for id…" Postal employees were purposely trying to keep him there so they could get a picture of him and alert postal inspectors. Martel said the man seemed to get nervous at the long wait, so he left the check, and walked out.

The post office prevented this particular loss, but postal inspectors say this suspect had been running an elaborate check fraud scheme for months. Postal inspector Troy Dickinson said, "They use checks that are either bad or they're drafted from accounts that are closed and they use those checks to make purchases." In this case, he bought stamps, a lot of stamps. Dickinson said, "He would buy 400 to 600 stamps at one point and that's unusual for someone to buy so many stamps." Dickinson explained the man would sell them to anybody: pawn shops or people on the streets. But this wasn't his first operation. Dickinson said, "This was one person who figured out how to take advantage of a situation. He wrote numerous checks. He got the post office for almost $40,000."

The suspect got caught, convicted, and is now serving seven years in prison.

The story is an important reminder to always protect your personal information and checks. And if someone sends you a check, and asks you to cash it, don't . You could end up losing your own money.

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