Scammers know how to design phony checks to make them look legitimate. In fact, the Council of Better Business Bureaus just released a list of the most “risky” scams, based on how likely people are to be targeted, how likely to lose money, and how much money they lost. Fake checks were number two.
Fake checks drive many types of scams – like those involving phony prize wins, fake jobs, mystery shoppers, online classified ad sales, and others. In a fake check scam, someone asks you to deposit a check – sometimes for several thousand dollars – and, when the funds seem to be available, wire the money to a third party.
The scammers always have a good story to explain the overpayment – they’re stuck out of the country, they need you to cover taxes or fees, you’ll need to buy supplies, or something else. But when the bank discovers you’ve deposited a bad check, the scammer already has the money, and you’re stuck paying the money back to the bank.
So don’t deposit a check and wire money or send money back in any way. Banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take them weeks. If a check you deposit bounces – even after it seemed to clear – you’re responsible for repaying the bank. Money orders and cashier’s checks can be counterfeited, too.