Fake checks and money orders are typically used as part of some other scam, often employment, fake lottery and online purchase scams.
The common denominator behind all fake check and money order scams is that you are sent a check or money order (usually for more than is needed), deposit it, and are required to forward some of that money to a third party or back to the scammers themselves before your bank can determine that it’s fake.
What makes these scams particularly effective is that so few people understand how checks work. When you deposit a check in your account, the money is usually available right away, or very shortly thereafter. But that doesn’t mean the check isn’t forged. It could still be a total fake, and when your bank realizes it a few days or even weeks down the road, they will pull that money right out again.
So let’s say you get contacted by someone purporting to offer you a good job working from home. They may even pretend to be from a major well-known company and make you pass a very realistic phone interview before “hiring” you. Congratulations! You just need to buy some important equipment before beginning work. No problem: they send you a check to cover your expenses as well as the bank account (actually their own, or their associate’s) to send the payment to. You deposit the check and you send off the money. No equipment ever arrives, your “employer” disappears with your payment, and the check bounces. That’s the scam.
A popular variation on the theme is the mystery shopper scam. You’ve been hired to be a mystery shopper, and the check they send you is intended to cover your commission and your shopping expenses, with an “extra” amount to send to the next mystery shopper. Or the system you’re “testing” is the store’s money wiring service or gift cards. Either way, the money you send is really going right back to your “employer.” The scammer gets your money before you realize you’ve been robbed.
Or imagine you’re told out of the blue that you’ve won some sort of lottery or sweepstakes that you don’t remember ever playing. Congratulations! You just need to pay some taxes or fees to release the winnings. No problem! They’ll send you a check to cover it … and by now you know how it ends.
Or perhaps you’re selling something online, like a car or an expensive piece of furniture on Craigslist. A buyer contacts you and asks to pay by check. When you receive it (often by FedEx to make it faster and more believable), it turns out to be for more than the agreed-upon price. The buyer apologizes and asks you to please return the extra amount by bank transfer or Western Union or something. And voila! You’re scammed. Plus you’ve probably already given them the thing you were selling too.
The main way to avoid getting scammed is to realize that legitimate businesses will almost never send you a check and then ask you to forward that money to a third party. It is a huge red flag. In the event that you really really believe that the business is legitimate, at the very least, never forward any money until you hear from the bank that not only have they deposited the money in your account, but that they’ve verified the check for sufficient funds. No matter how long it takes, do not allow yourself to be pressured or rushed by the stranger demanding the money. If they need it right away, and they’re threatening to terminate your job or your winnings, you know why. Report them to the authorities.
If you think you’ve been the victim of a fake check or money order scam, contact the fund recovery experts at MyChargeBack.