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Check scams and how to avoid them


checkbookBy Emily Driscoll

Ever heard something that sounded too good to be true? While it would be nice to think that money could just fall into your lap out of the blue, scam artists prey on that idea to trap people in different check scam variations. Although scams have been around for a while, swindlers are infiltrating all areas of communication and using new ways to trick unsuspecting consumers into throwing their money away.

How do people get scammed?

You may have heard of a sweepstake or lottery scam; a person receives a phone call or a letter in the mail to let them know they are the “lucky winner” of prizes or money and all that is required of them is sending a check or money order to a “company” to cover administrative fees and taxes. The “company” leads them to believe that they will be reimbursed in addition to a sizeable check for their winnings. The scammers either disappear with the stolen funds, or continuously make up new fees to string people along.

While the sweepstakes scam variation is usually targeted to people 65 and up, scammers are using a different way to reach the younger generation—work-at-home scams.

While the job market is still bouncing back, a work-at-home situation might sound optimal to a young adult. Victims usually receive an e-mail with instructions of how to become a “mystery shopper” or to process payments for a company. Acting as the “account manager”, the victim is supposed to deposit the check intended for the employer and then wire the money or send a money order back to the employer.

There are other ways to get trapped in a scam. Overpayment scams occur when you sell an item online and the buyer gives you more than you need, expecting to be reimbursed. For people who rent properties to others, scammers send a check with more than what is due for rent to cover “moving or shipping charges” and ask you to send back the excess. You could also be approached to help a fake foreign business by wiring money, or encounter a scammer on an online dating site.

Why me? How did they get my address/email/number?

So how do the scammers get your contact information? The same companies that release consumer information to marketing companies also dole it out to scammers. Although you may be approached by phone or mail, scammers are predominantly using the web to ensnare people who are older and therefore not as familiar with the nuances of the internet, or younger people who are strapped for funds and are not thinking clearly.

The National Consumers League (NCL) reports that 38% of their complaints involved an online scam. Taking advantage of online job seekers, it is not uncommon for unscrupulous individuals to post phony job listings to con information out of you for a work-at-home scam. Scammers also use websites where you can sell items to trick people into overpayment scams and online dating sites to lure people in to giving out their financial details.

How can I tell what’s a scam?

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Here are some tips to help you avoid getting faked out:


  • If someone you don’t know ever asks you to wire money, or send a check or money order, that should be your first red flag.
  • Just because it sounds like familiar company doesn’t mean it’s real; scammers use real company names for advertising to seem trustworthy.
  • Even if your bank clears the check or money order, it doesn’t mean it is legitimate; banks make funds available quickly and don’t necessarily verify the authenticity.


Click here to watch videos from the Consumer Federation of America on typical scam situations.

What happens if I get scammed?

If you fall for a scam, you not only lose out monetarily, but you could possibly lose your bank account. Unlike credit and debit fraud, victims are held responsible for check fraud and could face serious consequences; reimbursing the bank, getting arrested for fraud, and being added to a data base of financial abusers are just the icing on the cake.

Protect yourself by using your common sense--don’t share banking or credit card information with anyone you don’t directly know. Once that money is in the crook’s hand, it’s gone; wire transfers are financial one-way streets, making them a popular option for scammers. Check out the National Consumers League website for quizzes and information on how to spot these scams or send an e-card to warn other people about them.

Be smart (and safe!) with what you divulge about yourself to others on the internet and in general. I hope this helps!

Cheers, Emily