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How to Avoid a Fake Check Scam

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Plus some real-life examples.

To avoid falling prey to a fake check scam in your law practice – or at home – the best advice is usually the simplest.

Watch out for suspicious-looking checks. Be wary if the item purports to be sweepstakes winnings, secret shopper rewards, or an unexpected government stimulus payment. Be especially wary if you’re told to deposit it immediately and given detailed instructions on how, when and what to do with the proceeds.

“In the midst of the pandemic and government stimulus payments, fake check scams are on the rise,” according to Wells Fargo in an email alert sent to its customers. “The method may vary, but the scammer’s goal is always the same — to get you to deposit a counterfeit check into your bank account, and then return a portion of the money to them right away.”

Here are three red flags, per Wells Fargo:

1. A prospective buyer sends you a check for more than your asking price ‘by mistake’ and wants the overage back.
2. You receive your first check for a new work-from-home job, and the ‘employer’ asks you to send some money back right away for supplies.
3. You receive a check for sweepstakes winnings that can only be claimed by sending some money back to cover taxes.

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Real Examples of Fake Check Scams

Here are some real-life examples cited by Wells Fargo:

“I got an email asking if I would advertise a company by putting a sticker with their logo [all over] my car.  They sent me a $3500 check and said [to keep a portion and] the extra money in the check was to pay for the person who was going to wrap my car.”

“I got a job to be a secret shopper and they sent me a check for $4950. After I deposited the check, I was supposed to buy gift cards, scratch off the back of the card [to reveal the PIN], and text pictures of the cards back to the company to prove that I had bought the cards. I was also supposed to buy a money order from a different bank and send them a picture.”

“I was selling my car online and I got a cashier’s check from Wells Fargo for more than the asking price. The buyer said the extra money was to pay the person who was going to pick up the car. This didn’t seem right, so I went to the bank to see if the check was real.”

“I got this random check in the mail for winning a lottery, even though I don’t play. The letter that came with it said that I should call the ‘claims agent’ for instructions on what to do with the check. I didn’t feel right about it, so I brought the check into the bank.”

Tips to Protect Yourself

Get a second opinion if there is anything about the check that seems odd. Don’t deposit it if the amount of the check is more than you were expecting, if you receive extremely specific instructions on what to do with the funds, or if you’re told to send money back using an immediate form of payment like a money order, wire transfer or online payment.

“Be aware,” says Wells Fargo. “It can take weeks for a bank to confirm a bad check once it’s deposited and you may be out the amount of the check and any money sent to the scammer.”

Source: Wells Fargo

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