Q. What is a fake check scam?
A. It’s a fast-growing fraud that could cost you thousands of dollars. There are many types of fake check scams, but it all starts when someone offers a realistic-looking check or money order and asks you to send cash somewhere in return. It’s phony, and so is the person’s story, but that may take weeks to discover. Now your bank wants the money back. Turns out that just because you can get the cash doesn’t mean the check or money order is good. If it’s not, the crook will be richer and you’ll be the loser, because you’re responsible for the checks or money orders you deposit or cash. That’s how the scam works.
Q. How do the scammers find victims?
A. They scan newspaper and online advertisements looking for people listing items for sale or places to rent. They check postings on online job sites from people seeking employment and place their own ads with phone numbers or e-mail addresses for people to contact them. They meet people through social networking sites, chat rooms, and other places online. They make phone calls and send faxes, e–mails, or letters to people randomly, knowing that some will take the bait.
Q. How can I tell if a check or money order is counterfeit?
A. Know the scenario of a potential scam:
Q. Why do the scammers want cash to be sent using a money transfer service?
A. Because it’s fast — the money is often available to them within minutes. That means the victim may not be able to stop the payment before it’s received. Since the money is usually picked up in cash and in person, it may be impossible to find the crook and get it back. Some scammers are also instructing victims to send cash using a delivery service. If you suspect you’ve been scammed, immediately contact the money transfer service or delivery service you used — it may be possible to stop the crook from getting the money if it hasn’t been picked up yet.
Q. Why can’t my bank, credit union, or check cashing service tell if the check or money order is good?
A. When you deposit a check or money order, federal law requires you to have access to the funds within 1 to 5 days, but the actual processing takes longer. Banks, credit unions, and check cashing services accept checks and money orders based on your identification. They don’t have any information about the source. Because the check or money order goes back to the source, it can take a while for counterfeits to be discovered. For instance, if a check seems to come from a business account, the business may not learn about it until it appears on the next statement. You’re responsible because you’re in the best position to determine the risk of accepting the check or money order — you dealt with the person who gave it to you.
Q. What if I deposited or cashed the check or money order but haven’t sent the cash yet?
A. Immediately notify your bank or credit union, or a check cashing service if you used one. You will need to return the money or have your account corrected. Explain that you’ve been scammed and ask not to have any negative action taken against you such as closing your account or reporting you to a checking account abuse database. If that has already happened, ask if that action can be reversed. File a report with your local police to put on record that you’re a scam victim. Report the scam to the National Consumers League, which will pass the information along to law enforcement agencies.
Q. What if I have already sent the cash?
A. Immediately notify your bank or credit union, or a check cashing service if you used one. You will need to return the money or have your account corrected. Explain that you’ve been scammed and ask not to have any negative action taken against you such as closing your account or reporting you to a checking account abuse database. If that has already happened, ask if that action can be reversed. If there isn’t enough in your account to cover the loss, you could be sued to recover the funds. Try to work out a repayment plan. File a report with your local police to put on record that you’re a scam victim. Report the scam to the National Consumers League, which will pass the information along to law enforcement agencies.
Q. How much could I lose in a fake check scam?
A. According to the National Consumers League, victims lose an average of $3,000 to $4,000 — a significant amount for most people. But your losses could be even higher. If you used some of the money to pay bills or for other purposes, you’ll have to pay that amount back to your bank or credit union as well. There may also be bounced check and overdraft charges as a result of the scam. And you could lose more than money — your account could be closed and it could harm your credit rating. Some victims have even resorted to criminal acts to recoup their losses.
Q. How can I avoid becoming a victim?
A. Think about it — there is no legitimate reason why anyone would give you a check or money order and ask you to send cash anywhere in return. Be aware that just because you can get the cash quickly — usually in 1 to 5 days — doesn’t mean the check or money order is good. Crooks take advantage of the fact that counterfeits can take weeks — even months — to discover. By then you’ve sent the money and have to pay it back to your bank. Only cash a check or money order from a person or business you know or trust. When making any business deal, do not be rushed:
Take your time to be certain you trust the person/people you are dealing with. You can be a fraud fighter by telling everyone you know — your family and friends, the people with whom you work or go to school, the people who attend your place of worship, the people you chat with online, the members of clubs or other groups to which you belong — to learn the warning signs of fake check scams and know how to prevent becoming a victim. Send them the links to the videos and quizzes on this Web site and encourage them to pass along the word.
Q. Does fakechecks.org have any special features?
A. The Alliance believes it should be easy for consumers to tell friends and family about these scams. There is an e-mail option that consumers can use to quickly send messages to people they feel might fall prey to some of the scam scenarios.
Q. How many U.S. Postal Service money orders are issued daily?
A. In 2006, the U.S. Postal Service, one of many money order merchants, issued 166 million money orders, valued at nearly $30 billion. Postal money orders are a safe, convenient, and economical alternative to sending cash through the mail. They can be purchased from any Post Office in the United States and are available in denominations up to $1,000. Current government-issued or state-issued picture identification is required for money order purchases of $3,000 or more in a single day.