Fake Checks: Don’t Get Fooled
Fake check scams are on the rise. The best defense against this con is to be wary. Remember the old saying about something being too good to be true?
While there are many variations of fake check scams, they all usually start with someone offering to: buy something you advertised for sale; pay you to work at home; give you an "advance" on a sweepstakes you’ve won; or give you the first installment on the millions you’ll receive for agreeing to transfer money in a foreign country to your bank account for safekeeping.
The scammers often claim to be in other countries and say it’s too difficult to pay you directly, so they’ll have someone in the U.S. who owes them money send you a check or money order.
The amount of the check may be more than you’re owed, so you’re instructed to deposit it and wire the rest to the scammer. Or you’re told to wire some of the money back to pay a fee to claim your "winnings." Whatever the set-up, the result is the same – after you’ve wired the money, you find out that the check has bounced.
Know that fake checks can look very authentic. Some are phony cashier’s checks, others look like they’re from legitimate business accounts. The companies whose names appear may be real, but someone has dummied up the checks without their knowledge.
Under federal law, banks must make funds that consumers deposit available quickly – usually within one to five days. But just because the unwary consumer can withdraw the money doesn’t mean the check is good, even if it’s a cashier’s check. Forgeries can take weeks to be discovered.
Consumers are responsible for the checks they deposit. That’s because they are in the best position to determine the risk of a transaction.
The fake check scammers find their victims by scanning newspaper and online advertisements for people listing items for sale, and checking postings on online job sites from people seeking employment. They may also place their own ads with phone numbers or e-mail addresses for people to contact them. And they call or send e-mails or faxes to people randomly, knowing that some will take the bait.
How can you protect yourself from fake check scams? There is no legitimate reason for someone who is giving you money to ask you to wire money back – that’s a clear sign that it’s a scam. If a stranger wants to send you a check, insist on a cashiers check for the exact amount, preferably from a local bank or one with a branch in your area.
If you think someone is trying to pull a fake check scam, report it. Consumers can visit the National Consumers League’s National Fraud Information Center or call them at 1-800-876-7060. There are also more detailed tips about fake check scams in the telemarketing and Internet fraud sections of the NCL Web site.
Skimming devices are placed either at an ATM or cash register, and are used to “skim” your card data during a legitimate transaction.
At ATMs the devices are planted on legitimate ATMs. Some devices will allow the customer’s transaction to occur, while others interfere with the ATM operations, and simply notify the customer that the transaction had a malfunction. With both types of skimmers, the card transaction is captured to a laptop or hard drive. The thief can then use your card information to make fraudulent purchases or withdrawals. Keep a sharp eye on the ATM you are using…look for loose faceplates and readers, or a mismatched look on the ATM itself. When at all possible, use well-known institution owned ATMs, which are more likely to be regularly inspected.
Another skimming device is used at cash registers, when you make a purchase. Be aware if the clerk takes your card out of your sight when there is no need. Experts say organized crime rings are now planting skimming devices and enlisting the help of the cashier, who usually makes a small fee. Obviously certain types of businesses, such as restaurants, cannot always conduct your transaction within your sight. Just be as alert as possible, and watch your account activity closely.