Businesses and ‘work-at-home’ folks: Beware of bogus check/wire transfer scam

scam alert pic 150x150 Businesses and work at home folks: Beware of bogus check/wire transfer scamSometimes scammers rip off businesses and the little guy all at once.

Better Business Bureau just got wind of a scheme that involves stolen/forged checks and money wiring scam, fake work-at-home jobs listed on Craigslist, and a hit to the reputation of an area company some consumers believed (falsely) that they were working for.

A BBB-accredited ad agency in San Antonio recently discovered that bogus checks claiming to be from their company were being used in an overpayment/money wiring scam. The checks looked very professional, with the company name and actual routing and account numbers.

People who answered work-at-home want ads on Craigslist were caught up in the scheme. One woman was asked to send out fake checks on behalf of the scammers and was paid by Western Union. When she noticed the Western Union payment was in someone else’s name, she called the real ad agency and asked, “Am I working for you?” The answer was “no.”

She had already sent out 200 bogus checks.

Another woman was sent a $1,500 check in the name of the ad agency and asked to deposit the money and quickly send a money order for $1,200, keeping $300 for herself. The check looked legitimate to the bank teller at first, but when it turned out to be fake, the woman had to pay her bank $1,200.

According to the ad agency, the scammers somehow intercepted a check that was sent to a client. They knew something was wrong when someone tried to cash it in another state. Scammers “washed” the check and used it as a template for numerous fake checks in the ad agency’s name.

Which brings up some important tips for businesses regarding checks:

  • Monitor your accounts payable. Stop payment on the check and send out another one if too much time goes by and the check appears to be “lost.”
  • Use tamper resistant checks. Checks with security features make it harder for crooks who may intercept them to counterfeit or alter them.
  • Keep track of check orders. Notify your check supplier and bank if you order checks that don’t arrive in a reasonable amount of time.
  • Keep checks secured. Keep reserve supplies of checks, deposit slips and other banking documents locked up and limit the number of people who can access the
  • Keep your eye on the ball. Don’t leave checks or other bank records unattended while you serve customers. Someone might take them while you aren’t looking.

Important tip for the consumer: 

  • Never agree to deposit a check and send a portion to someone else. This is a well-known scam. No matter how legitimate the check may appear to be, no matter what story or reasonable-sounding explanation you are given (“Mystery shopper” is a common scheme), you will get burned. A bank teller might accept the check, but when it turns out to be fake, you will have to reimburse the bank for whatever amount you wired to the scammer.

And a tip for the prospective work-at-home employee:

  • Be very cautious. Way too often, work-at-home opportunities turn out to be scams run by people intent on ripping you off, ripping off someone else, or making you the unwitting partner in some kind of crime.

Check out Central Texas BBB’s May 10, 2013 blog post on the work-at-home business for some examples of what can happen and a list of tips: Do your homework before signing up for work-at-home.

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About Charles Wood

Charles Wood is an investigator with the Austin Better Business Bureau. He joined BBB after more than 22 years as a newspaper journalist.