BBB Warns: Phony Checks Look Like the Real Thing

July 28, 2008

   Scam artists are making oodles of money because consumers in northern Colorado -- and across the nation -- are being fooled by fake checks.
 Case in point: The Better Business Bureau serving northern Colorado and Wyoming recently took a call from Brian in New Jersey. He received a $6,000 sweepstakes check with specific instructions to deposit the check in his bank account then go to Wal-Mart and wire $3,300 to a Canadian address. Brian began to feel uncomfortable about the check and instructions and instead jumped online to research his “windfall.” He came across one of our news releases warning consumers about sweepstakes and phony checks. He called for more information.
 We told him that just because the bank accepted the check doesn’t mean the check was legit or that the funds would be available. And when the check doesn’t clear, he would be liable for any money he wired to the scammers.
 Joyce Spight, vice president/retail banking manager for Home State Bank, a BBB Accredited Business, said it’s important for consumers to be aware that phony checks from sweepstakes or foreign-based lotteries are just that: phony. Unfortunately, scam artists have gotten so good at the game that the checks are hard to detect -- even by banks.
 “Tellers wouldn’t know the check was fake unless they have conversations with customers,” Spight said. She encourages bank customers to bring suspect checks in and speak with a banker who can help to determine if the check is legit or phony.
 If the check arrives out of the blue from a source you’ve never dealt with, that’s a red flag to pay attention to, she added.
 Phony check scams, however, come in many disguises, including:
• Check processing. Employees are "hired" to deposit funds into their own accounts, keep a percentage of each check or money order as their "fee" and wire remaining funds to the employer.
• Mystery shoppers. They’re provided "funds" to purchase items or test a "new" wire service, and told to refund what’s leftover.
• Online auctions and ads. Scammers “purchase” an item and send a check for more than the cost of the merchandise with instructions to return the “overage.”
• Rental properties. A landlord might rent property sight unseen to a "tenant" overseas who then sends a fake check or money order to cover shipping of his or her goods with the request that the overage be returned via wire transfer.
  Your BBB also advises that there is no legitimate reason why anyone would give you a check or money order and ask you to wire cash anywhere in return. Be aware that crooks take advantage of the fact that counterfeit checks can take weeks – even months – to be discovered. By then you’ve sent the money and have to pay it back to your bank.
 For more information on scams, visit or call us at 970-484-1348.