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Educational Consumer Tips

Secret Shopping

Author: Better Business Bureau
Published:

Fake Checks: Variations on a Scheme
Counterfeit or fake checks are being used in a growing number of fraudulent schemes, including secret shopper scams.

In secret shopper scams, the consumer, hired to be a secret shopper, is asked to evaluate the effectiveness of a money transfer service. The consumer is given a check, told to deposit it in their bank account, and withdraw the amount in cash. Then, the consumer is told to take the cash to the money transfer service specified, and typically, send the transfer to a person in a Canadian city. Then, the consumer is supposed to evaluate their experience but no one collects the evaluation. The secret shopper scenario is just a scam to get the consumer's money.

Con artists who use these schemes can easily avoid detection. When funds are sent through wire transfer services, the recipients can pick up the money at other locations within the same country; it is nearly impossible for the sender to identify or locate the recipient.

You or Your Bank? Who is Responsible for What?
Under federal law, banks must make funds available to you from U.S. Treasury checks, official bank checks and checks paid by government agencies at the opening of business the day after you deposit the check. For other checks, banks must similarly make the first $100 available the day after you deposit the check. Remaining funds must be made available on the second day after the deposit if payable by a local bank, and within five days if drawn on distant banks.

However, just because funds are available on a check you've deposited doesn't mean the check is good. It's best not to rely on money from any type of check unless you know and trust the person you're dealing with or, better yet -- until the bank confirms that the check has cleared. Forgeries can take weeks to be discovered and untangled. The bottom line is that until the bank confirms that the funds from the check have been deposited into your account, you are responsible for any funds you withdraw against that check.

Here is how to avoid a counterfeit check scam:
-- Know who you are dealing with, and never wire money to strangers.
-- If you accept payment by check, ask for a check drawn on a local bank, or a bank with a local branch. That way, you can make a personal visit to make sure the check is valid. If that is not possible, call the bank where the check was purchased, and ask if it is valid. Get the bank's phone number from directory assistance or an Internet site that you know and trust, not from the check or from the person who gave you the check.
If the company insists that you wire back funds, end the transaction immediately. Legitimate companies don't pressure you to send money by wire transfer services. In addition, you have little recourse if there's a problem with a wire transaction.
-- Resist any pressure to act now. If the offer is good now, it should be good after the check clears.