Warning: Beware fake check scams

Scamsters profit from hard times. A growing criminal enterprise is luring consumers into accepting genuine-looking but genuine-phony checks or money orders and convincing them to send cash somewhere in return. Of course, the money is pocketed by the crook. The victim has been conned.

The experts at the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the National Consumers League (NCL) have put out a report on what to look for with these scams. You can read Five Things You Should Know to Avoid Fake Check Scams to learn how to identify the scam in its various forms.

According to the NCL's Fraud Center, a statistical analysis of complaints from 2009, 2010, and January through May 2011 show that people between the ages of 18 and 30 are much more likely to be targeted for the work-at-home version of the scam than other age groups. Here the trick is to convince people that they're being hired as "account managers" to process payments for a company or as "mystery shoppers."

Those 66 and older are more likely targets for the sweepstakes/lottery version of the scam. Customers are conned with phony notices informing them that they have won millions and asking them to pay taxes or other fees from the "advance" that they receive in order to claim the rest of their money.

Here is their "buyer beware" check list:

  • If someone gives you a check or money order and asks you to send money somewhere in return, it's a scam.
  • A familiar company name doesn't guarantee that it's legitimate.
  • The check or money may be fake even if your bank or credit union lets you have the cash.
  • When the check or money order bounces, you will have to pay the money back to your bank or credit union.
  • Sending money using a money transfer service is like sending cash - once the crook picks it up you can't get it back from the service.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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