Check out that (bogus) check–or better yet, just throw it away

scam-alert-pic-150x150A check in the mail isn’t always good news. If you weren’t expecting it and don’t know the people who sent it, it’s probably a fake–and it could get you into a lot of trouble.

Your BBB just got a call from a consumer in Corpus Christi whose son got a very official-looking check for $2,700, supposedly from a New York law firm. The check came in an  Express Mail package, with no letter of explanation.

Fortunately, both father and son got suspicious and checked out the check before depositing it in the bank. Sure enough, it turned out to be a fake. If the man’s son had deposited the money, the bank might have accepted it at first, but he would have had to pay the money back when the bank found out it was fraudulent.

Watchyourbuck has reported on counterfeit check scams in the past. In these scams, a criminal contacts the victim, who thinks he’s just gotten an unexpected windfall, and asks him to wire part of the money to someone using a Greendot card or other means. For his trouble, the victim gets to keep a portion–for a very short time. When the bank finds out the check is a fake, the victim has to pay it back, including the amount that was wired to someone else.

There are different variations on the counterfeit check scam. In January, a Midland-area man nearly got burned with a fake check, at first thinking he had been hired to promote a popular energy drink with a magnetic advertising wrapper on his car.

In May 2013, scammers impersonated a San Antonio business and used bogus checks in the company’s name to run a work-at-home overpayment scam. One woman who didn’t realize at first she was working for scammers, sent out over 200 fake checks to potential victims before she contacted the real company and found out how she was being used.

In October 2013, a woman in Mexia, Texas got burned for over $2,000 with a fake check after being hired for what she thought was a temporary work-at-home job. The scammers told her they were opening a location in Houston and needed her to work at home until they got established. She was asked to wire  money for supplies–and ended up owing her bank $2,400.

Other fake check scams include the fake lottery scam, where the victim is sent a counterfeit check to pay fees before receiving a big cash prize that never arrives; and “mystery shopper” scam, where the victim is led to believe he or she is being hired to evaluate different retailers, is paid with a fake check and asked to wire money to the scammers.

Why was there no letter in the package in the case reported by the Corpus Christi consumer? There are a couple of possibilities. A “work-at-home employee” being used by the scammers might have forgotten to include it, or if the scammers somehow had the consumer’s email address, they may have intended to contact him that way with instructions to wire money and some kind of bogus explanation.

In any case, it’s a good thing the consumers were suspicious and avoided getting in trouble with their bank or possibly even the law. Find out more about common check scams here.