A college student, a retired nurse, a young professional, a recent divorcee, hundreds of Craigslist sellers and even law firms have been victims of what is becoming a fraud epidemic — fake checks.
The BBB estimates as many as 500,000 Americans were burned by fake check scams last year, with the average loss to the victim around $1,200!
The con typically works like this: You receive a check in advance in the mail, maybe from a part-time job opportunity or a Craigslist sale. The check looks legit; you cash the check, and your bank says there’s money in your account. Great! Right?
But what crooks know, and you probably don’t, is even though the check is credited to your account, it doesn’t mean it is good. Federal banking rules require banks to make funds available within a day or two of depositing a check. If that check later bounces, the bank will require YOU to pay them back!
Anyone and everyone can be victimized. Kathy Derrick is an experienced professional executive assistant who was contacted via LinkedIn regarding a work-at-home position with a well-known technology company. She was offered a job at a good hourly rate. It was explained she would need to buy office supplies and equipment from one of the company’s vendors (in reality, the scammers). They sent her several checks to pay for the needed merchandise. The checks appeared authentic. She deposited them, waited for the money to appear in her checking account, then wired the money to pay the “vendors” for the merchandise. There was no job. Kathy lost over $2,000!
As you can see, crooks are incredibly savvy.
Mystery or secret shoppers is a legitimate industry, represented by the Mystery Shopper Providers Association. Sadly, it is the one scammers use most often. Victims of the fake check scam have received mailings from fraudulent companies with both the MSPA and BBB Accredited Business logos at the top. The letter instructs the victim to deposit the check, keep $275 for the work, and go to a local Walmart, CVS, Rite Aid or similar store and make small purchases of $30. They are then to go to a CVS and buy four $500 MoneyGram orders and ship them by FedEx. The victims are also told not to tell them about the mystery shopper job. Again, the victims are out the money!
As I outlined in the opening of this article, fake checks are used in a variety of scams, not just work-at-home jobs and mystery shoppers. What should you do to protect yourself if you receive a check with instructions to deposit it, then wire money to them or a third-party?
• Don’t “keep the change.” No legitimate company will overpay you and ask that you wire the difference back to the company or to some third party.
• Don’t cash the “unexpected” check. Companies rarely send checks that don’t include some explanation of why the check was issued.
• Call the company directly to verify the check. Do not call any telephone number that appears on the check or in any instructions you receive.
• Look for typos and poor grammar.
• Compare the name of the person or company posting the opportunity with the name on the check you receive and beware if they don’t match.
• Don’t be pressured to act quickly. It can take 10 days or more for your bank to determine that a check is counterfeit.
Fake check fraud is a huge problem, with complaints to the BBB and government agencies doubling over the past three years alone! If you receive a suspicious check, be sure to report it to your local police, the BBB and check with your bank.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.