It could feel like a dream come true— you open your mailbox to discover a check. The money is yours, as long as you cash it. What could go wrong?
The answer: A lot.
Fake check scams take many forms and each of them is orchestrated to take (not give!) money.
What Are Fake Check Scams?
According to the FTC, fake checks “drive” many types of scams. Using fake checks is a way for scammers to dip into your bank account from across the country or globe. Regardless of the specifics behind each scam, the patterns that emerge are similar. Someone you have never met in person sends you a check and asks you to deposit it. This check will either be completely unexpected or, even if you’re expecting it, for more money than you thought it would be.
After you deposit the check, the sender will explain that they sent too much and ask you to mail back the overage. Should you agree, as most people do, the scammer will have you send the money back by money wire, cash by mail, or through the purchase of a digital gift card. They’ll have reasons that seem to (almost) make sense and you’ll fall for their lies as you’re an honest person. Any money you send will be stolen and, since the check you received was never real, your bank will cancel the funds you deposited.
The 5 Most Common Scams:
- Online Classified Ad Sales: You are selling something online and have a buyer. They even want to send you the money in advance, as they’re out of the country or on a trip. Since you have the product in your home, you think it’s safe to accept their payment. They send you too much money and you give them back the overage. Not only will your bank reverse the payment, since the check is fake, but you may have bank fees from the bounced check. Worse, if you actually send them the product, you’ll experience multiple levels of loss.
- Phony Jobs & Income Opportunities: You apply for a job online and are hired. The job could be anything from a position as a virtual assistant to being a mystery shopper. Your new employer sends you payment in advance, for any expenses you might incur. As with other check scams, the scammer may want your account information but will send you too much money and ask for a refund. Any refund you send will be stolen.
- Refund Checks: You receive a refund check that you weren’t expecting, but are notified (by the sender) that the check was written out in the wrong amount. You deposit it and send the excess money back, only to end up losing that money to a scammer. As with all fake checks, the check is fake and your bank will remove any gains you thought you had. If you spend the money, your account could be in peril or have overage fees.
- Scammer in Need of Help: Scammers use fake check scams to pad their pockets, which means that they perfect their sales pitch with excuses. They might claim that they are stranded in another country and need money wired back to them in order to return home. Or, they might say that they are sending you the payment to avoid paying taxes. They’ll tug at your heartstrings but their real goal is your money.
Never accept payment from someone you don’t know. Stop and think before you deposit any check and use your intuition. Why would a potential job send you money before you start? Although it can be tempting to deposit a check, don’t take the risk… particularly if it’s for more than you expected it to be.
Use a high powered algorithm-based search to search by name, email address, phone number, photograph, and other details. Use Social Catfish’s reverse search to verify the identity of anyone you’re unsure about and report any scams to your bank and the FTC. Social Catfish is an easy way to background check people you meet – on or offline – and verify identity the smart way.
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