Finding a check in the mail with your name on it may feel like it’s your lucky day; but think before you take the money and run. Chances are, that check is a sham. Fake check and money order scams take on many different forms, but the core scheme is typically the same.
The tactics these con artists use vary widely – they can approach you from different directions. You may be selling something online and the scammer pretends to be interested in a purchase; you may get “hired” for a job, such as a secret shopper; or you may be alerted that you’ve won a sweepstakes prize.
In every one of these scenarios however, the amount of the check is “accidentally” far more than the amount agreed upon. The scammer instructs you to deposit the check, keep the amount owed, and wire back the difference. When you deposit the check, the funds will probably appear available on your account. Unfortunately, the check eventually bounces. And since you have already wired back the “overpayment” to the scammer, you are left responsible for the entire amount.
According to Better Business Bureau’s ‘Risk Index’, fake checks are the second riskiest scam behind home improvement scams. This ranking is based off factors such as how likely someone is to be targeted, the probability of losing money and how much money is typically at stake. The full study can be found at bbb.org/riskreport.
Fake checks are also commonly reported on BBB Scam Tracker. As of early February 2018, there have already been 140 reports across the U.S.
Better Business Bureau has the following tips to help avoid this scam:
- Be immediately suspicious of overpayments. A check can bounce even after your bank allows you to withdraw cash from the deposit. Even if a bank representative tells you that a check has “cleared”, it could be detected as a forgery weeks later, and you could be liable for the funds drawn against the amount.
- Never send money to people you don’t know. This is especially true if they ask for the money in an unusual form such as wire transfer or prepaid cards.
- If the buyer insists that you wire back funds, end the transaction immediately. Legitimate buyers don’t pressure you to send money via wire transfer services. In addition, you have little recourse if there’s a problem with a wire transaction.
If you think you’ve been the target of a fake check scam, file a report with Better Business Bureau at bbb.org/scamtracker.