Counterfeit check scams are defrauding consumers across the country according to complaints filed with BBB and state Attorneys General.
The most common type of scheme involves a counterfeit cashier's check, traditionally considered a trusted form of payment. Unfortunately, the advent of high quality printers and scanners is making it easier for counterfeiters to produce official-looking checks of all types and caliber, including cashier's checks.
The problem occurs when a consumer deposits the counterfeit check in a bank account and, a few days later, asks the financial institution if the money is "available" When told yes, the consumer assumes that they can safely draw upon that money. That is not the case! Until the financial institution can confirm the funds have been 'finally collected' the consumer is responsible for any funds they may withdraw against that check deposit. The amount of time it can take for the bank to finally collect the money can vary, particularly with out-of-state or out-of-country checks.
In most cases, victims report that they wired money to the check issuer only to find that the deposited check was uncollectible. This has happened to consumers who were told they won an international lottery and were advised to pay a clearance fee or taxes out of their "winnings" check; consumers who responded to work-at-home opportunities and were told to deposit a cashier's check and then wire money elsewhere; and to online auction sellers who accepted certified checks for payment from far-away buyers and sent the merchandise, only to discover later that the checks were counterfeit.
Another common scheme involving phony checks is the "Mystery Shopper" or "Secret Shopper" scam. Fake checks are sent to consumers with instructions to cash the check at their bank, shop at certain stores and report on their service, and wire a portion of the money back to the "company." Reportedly, these checks can range from $1,000 to $3,000. There is usually a fee that the consumer is instructed to keep to "pay" them for the time and service. Victims have reported that once the money is wired, the bank alerts them that the check was not able to be collected and is likely fraudulent. The consumer is then held responsible for the money withdrawn. Be wary of companies that ask you to wire money, especially out of the country. If it seems too good to be true then it probably is.
The BBB and State Attorneys General offer tips to evaluate the legitimacy of checks you receive from individuals or businesses that you do not know:
1. Independently verify that the check is drawn from an actual account at a legitimate financial institution.
2. Do not rely on the telephone number listed on the check. Use directory assistance to get the telephone number of the financial institution and call them to verify the check.
3. Do not rely on the money until the funds have been finally collected by your financial institution. Funds 'available' is not good enough.
Check any business’ report with your BBB at www.bbb.org before you cash that check!
If you have any questions about whether a transaction is legitimate, talk to your bank or credit union.
Those who have been victimized by a phony check drawn on a federally insured financial institution should phone the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation at 877. 275.3342. If the check is drawn on a foreign bank, contact the United States Secret Service at 202.406.5572 or go to http://www.secretservice.gov.
For things you can do to prevent getting scammed: http://www.fdic.gov Search for "fake checks."
For more tips and to file a complaint or report an experience concerning counterfeit checks, go to this FBI site: http://www.ic3.gov
Report individuals and companies who use the mail to promote counterfeit check scams to the office of the Postal Inspector in your area. Visit the United States Postal Service's web site: http://www.usps.com/missingmoneyorders/security.htm
Visit these links for more information and prevention tips on fake check scams:
National Consumer League