Counterfeit check scams are defrauding consumers across the country out of millions of dollars, according to complaints filed with the Better Business Bureaus and state consumer protection agencies.
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.
The BBB offers these tips to evaluate the legitimacy of checks you receive from individuals or businesses that you do not know:
• Independently verify that the check is drawn from an actual account at a legitimate financial institution. Do not rely on the telephone number listed on the check. Use the web or directory assistance to get the telephone number of the financial institution and call them to verify the check.
• Do not rely on the money until the funds have been finally collected by your financial institution. Funds “availability” is not good enough.
• If you have any questions about whether a transaction is legitimate, talk to your bank or credit union.
Remember that money does not usually fall into your lap without some type of relationship with the issuer so if you receive an unexpected check, ask lots of questions before depositing it into your account. Also, if you are asked to wire transfer part of a check back to someone, that is usually a red flag that you are being hooked by a con artist.
For more information on fake check scams, visit www.fakechecks.org or www.bbb.org.
Reach Kelvin Collins, the president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia and the CSRA Inc., at (800) 763-4222 or www.bbb.org.