Fake check and money order scams take many different forms, but the underlying con is the same. Scammers take advantage of the fact that many people don’t understand the rules about check deposits and wire transfers. It is sometimes called the “overpayment scam” because it involves a large initial payment to the target – much more than they are owed for the transaction – and a large refund back to the scammer.
How the Scam Works:
The stories that con artists use vary widely. You might be selling something online and the scammer pretends to be interested in a purchase. Or scammers will “hire” you for a job, such as secret shopping, or tell you you’ve won a sweepstakes prize. In all cases, the amount of the check is “accidentally” far more than the amount agreed to. The scammer instructs you to deposit the check, keep the amount owed, and wire back the difference.
When you deposit the check, the funds will appear to be available within days. However, forgeries can take weeks to be discovered. Eventually the check bounces, but in the meantime you’ve wired back the “overpayment” to the scammer. A wire transfer is like sending cash; once it’s gone, it is very hard to trace.
Tips to Spot This Scam:
To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker.
To learn how to protect yourself, go to “10 Steps to Avoid Scams”.
Last Reviewed February 27, 2017