Beware of fake check scams
Posted: Wednesday, October 26, 2011 7:01 pm
By: Jason Alderman, Special to The Press
The other day I got one of those annoying emails from a supposed Nigerian prince promising rich rewards for helping to move money out of his country.
Endless variations on fake check swindles are being perpetrated by phone, letter and email, including:
You’re hired as a secret shopper to help evaluate a money-transfer service. You’re sent a check to deposit, minus your “pay,” and are then asked to wire out the remainder using the service being tested.
What these scams have in common is that the checks themselves are fraudulent. Thieves count on the fact that your bank generally must make deposited funds available to you within a few days.
However, weeks may pass before the bank ultimately discovers the fraud, at which point they bounce the check. You must then repay your bank the money or have your account frozen or closed and be sued – possibly even face criminal charges.
Today’s sophisticated scanners, printers and software programs make it easy to create checks that sometimes even fool authorities. A few warning signs:
• Fake checks are often printed on lighter, slippery paper and lack at least one perforated or rough edge.
• Missing or faded bank logo, suggesting it may have been copied.
• No street address or a P.O. box only, or an inaccurate ZIP code.
• Check number at the upper right corner doesn’t match the number on the check’s bottom line.
• Usually drawn for less than $5,000 because by law, deposits under that amount must be made available to you within five days. Crooks count on your completing their transaction before the check has actually been cleared by the issuing bank.
• The first nine digits in the check’s bottom line typically identify the routing number of the issuing bank. Having fewer or more than nine digits means it’s fake. Verify correct routing numbers at www.fededirectory.frb.org/reserve.cfm.
To paraphrase P.T. Barnum, there’s a new scam born every minute. Just make sure you’re not one of the poor suckers who falls for it.
Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs.