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Woodside Priory account targeted in check fraud scheme

Someone has been sending people counterfeit checks from the account of the Woodside Priory School in Portola Valley, according to a report from the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office.

Between Feb. 21 and 27, individual residents in Nevada, Arizona and Pennsylvania were contacted over email and given instructions on how to cash checks allegedly from the Priory. The checks, which included the Priory's account information, were written out to these individuals and mailed to them via U.S. Mail, deputies said.

The Priory is a private co-ed Catholic boarding school for grades 6-12 and located at 302 Portola Road.

This is the second check-fraud case involving a major educational institution in Portola Valley within the past year or so. The nonprofit foundation affiliated with the public school district, the Portola Valley Schools Foundation, was defrauded of $182,500 through the use of phony checks in the fall of 2012. The foundation was insured and recovered all the money.

Authorities at the Priory and the Sheriff's Office did not provide information on how much money was at stake in the latest incident.

In the Priory scheme, after cashing the checks, the recipients were supposed to deposit a portion of the money in a Wells Fargo bank account for Peter Alvino Real Estate, deputies said.

The school found out about the scheme when someone in possession of one of the checks called the school to ask if the check was legitimate, the Priory's director of finance and operations, Josie Castaneda, said in an email.

The school informed its bank, closed the account and suffered no losses, Ms. Castaneda said.

One check may have cashed, said Deputy Rebecca Rosenblatt of the Sheriff's Office. An investigation is underway, she said.

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