Fake Check Scam
Fake checks can appear to be real checks for businesses or individuals. They can also look like cashier's checks, money orders or checks sent electronically. It's important to understand the risks of fake check scams. Before you deposit a check you weren’t expecting or wire funds to an unknown recipient, here is what you should know:
How do Fake Check Scams Work?
Here are some situations where you should be cautious:
- When someone wants to buy something you posted for sale.
- When someone offers to pay you for working from home.
- When someone promises to give you money in advance for a sweepstakes you entered or won.
- When someone offers to give you an initial payment as part of a deal where you'll receive millions by transferring money to your bank account for safekeeping.
Be careful if someone gives you a check or money order that is more than what they owe you. They might ask you to send back the extra money before giving you the full payment you're expecting. After you’ve sent the money, you find out that the check or money order is fake.
Types of Fake Check Scams
Many scammers use fake checks to steal your money. Here are some examples:
- Mystery Shopping - Scammers pretend to hire you as a mystery shopper. They might say your first task is to evaluate a store that sells gift cards, money orders or wire transfer services. They send you a check and tell you to deposit it in your bank account, then send some of the money to someone else. But once you send the money, it's gone and the fake "employer" can vanish, leaving you in trouble.
- Overpayments - People buying something from you online “accidentally” send a check for too much and then ask you to refund the extra money. Be cautious, as this is a scam.
- Claiming Prizes - A sweepstakes says you’ve won and gives you a check. They send you a check but then ask you to send back some money to cover taxes, shipping or processing fees. Be careful because that's not how real sweepstakes work. If you send them money, you'll end up losing that money and won't get anything in return.
Why Do These Scams Work?
These scams are successful because fake checks can look very similar to real checks. These checks are often designed to appear as if they come from real banks, with accurate names and addresses. Sometimes, they are even real checks stolen from someone else's bank account.
Fake Checks and Your Bank
According to the law, banks must make the money you deposit available to you within a couple of days. When the bank says the check has "cleared" and the funds are in your account, it doesn't guarantee that the check is valid. Fake checks can take a long time, sometimes weeks, to be identified as fake. By that time, the scammer has already taken the money you sent, and you'll have to repay the bank.
To be safe, it's best not to depend on money from a check unless you're familiar with and trust the person you're dealing with.
How To Avoid a Fake Check Scam
- Avoid using money from a check to purchase gift cards, money orders, cryptocurrency or to wire money if someone asks you to. Scammers frequently instruct victims to buy gift cards, transfer cryptocurrency or send money through services like Western Union or MoneyGram. Once you do this, it's like giving them cash, and it becomes extremely difficult to retrieve it.
- Ignore offers that require you to pay for a prize. If something is truly free, you shouldn't have to pay for it. Only scammers will ask you to pay to receive a "free" prize.
- Don't accept a check for more than the selling price. If someone gives you a check that's worth more than what you're selling, it's probably a scam.
What To Do If You Sent Money to a Scammer
Depending on the method of payment you used when dealing with a scammer, there are various approaches you can take to attempt to recover your money.
- Gift Card - If you unfortunately fell victim to a scam and paid the scammer with a gift card, it's crucial to immediately inform the company that issued the card. When contacting the company, explain that the gift card was used in a scam and inquire about the possibility of getting a refund. Acting promptly increases the chances of recovering your money. Additionally, notify the store where you initially purchased the gift card as soon as possible. Gift cards should only be used for gifting purposes, not as a form of payment. Remember, anyone who insists on receiving payment through a gift card is undoubtedly a scammer.
- Wire Transfer - If you sent money through a wire transfer to a scammer, contact the wire transfer company right away to report the fraudulent activity and lodge a complaint. Request them to reverse the money transfer, although the chances of it happening are low. Nevertheless, it's crucial to make the request and inquire about the possibility.
- Money Order - If you have made a payment to a scammer using a money order, promptly get in touch with the company responsible for issuing the money order to explore the possibility of stopping the payment. Additionally, make efforts to halt the delivery of the money order. If you sent it via U.S. mail, contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455. Otherwise, reach out to the relevant delivery service you used as soon as you can.
- Cryptocurrency - If you made a payment using cryptocurrency, reach out to the company or platform through which you conducted the transaction. Inform them that the transaction was fraudulent and request their assistance in reversing it, if possible.
In addition to informing the bank that you used to issue the payment, it's also advisable to report the scammer to the relevant website or online service where you came across them. For instance, if it was an online auction website, social media or job posting platform, notify the platform will enable them to prevent the scammer from exploiting their services in the future.
If you think you have fallen victim by a fake check scam, report the fraud to: