Fake checks drive many types of scams – like those involving online sales, phony prize wins, mystery shoppers, and others. Regardless of the scenario, the scam will always have these elements:
- A person you do not know asks you to deposit a check, usually for more than what you are owed.
- This person then asks you to wire some of the money back to them.
- The person has a good story to explain the overpayment – they are out of the country, they need you to cover taxes or fees, or something else.
At this point, if you have deposited the check, you may feel safe because there is money in your account. However, banks are required by law to make deposited funds available quickly. Which means the bank may not learn for days the deposited check was bad. By then, the scammer has your money, AND you have to repay the bank. Remember, just because the check has cleared does not mean it is good.
What can you do to protect yourself?
Be wary. Talk to someone you trust and contact your bank before you act.
- Never take a check for more than your selling price.
- If you are selling online, consider using an escrow or online payment service.
- Never send money back to someone who sent you a check.
If you do spot a scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint. Victims are sometimes embarrassed to talk about or report their experiences, but you can help with a simple phone call, email or text, and share your information – it may help save someone from becoming a victim.