Fake checks might look like business or personal checks, cashier’s checks, money orders, or a check delivered electronically. Here’s what to know about fake check scams.
In a fake check scam, a person you don’t know asks you to deposit a check. It’s usually for more than they owe you, and it’s sometimes for several thousand dollars. They tell you to send some of the money back to them or to another person. They always have a good story to explain why you can’t keep all the money. They might say they need you to cover taxes or fees for a prize, to buy supplies for a job, to send back money they overpaid, or something else. But this is a scam. Here’s how to spot it.
Types of Fake Checks Scams
Lots of scammers use fake checks to get your money. Here are some examples:
- Mystery shopping. Scammers pretend to hire you as a mystery shopper. They tell you that your first assignment is to evaluate a retailer that sells gift cards, money orders, or a wire transfer service like Western Union or MoneyGram. You get a check with instructions to deposit it in a personal bank account and wire some of the money to someone else. But once you do, the money is gone and the so-called “employer” can disappear, too.
- Personal assistants. You apply online and think you’re getting hired as a personal assistant. You get a check and are told to use the money to buy gift cards and send the PIN numbers to your “boss.” But that’s a scammer, and once they get the gift card PINs, they use them instantly. That leaves you without the money when the bank figures out the check was fake.
- Car wrap decals. You respond to an offer for car wrap advertising. The company tells you to deposit a check and then send money to decal installers. But it’s a scam, the installers aren’t real, and now your money is gone.
- Claiming prizes. A sweepstakes says you’ve won and gives you a check. They tell you to send them money to cover taxes, shipping and handling charges, or processing fees. But that’s not how legitimate sweepstakes work — and you’ll be out any money you send.
- Overpayments. People buying something from you online, “accidentally” send a check for too much, and ask you to refund the balance. But that’s a scam.
Why Do These Scams Work?
These scams work because fake checks generally look just like real checks, even to bank employees. They are often printed with the names and addresses of legitimate financial institutions. They may even be real checks written on bank accounts that belong to someone whose identity has been stolen. It can take weeks for a bank to figure out that the check is a fake.
Fake Checks and Your Bank
By law, banks have to make deposited funds available quickly, usually within two days. When the funds are made available in your account, the bank may say the check has “cleared,” but that doesn’t mean it’s a good check. Fake checks can take weeks to be discovered and untangled. By that time, the scammer has any money you sent, and you’re stuck paying the money back to the bank.
Your best bet: Don’t rely on money from a check unless you know and trust the person you’re dealing with.
How To Avoid a Fake Check Scam
- Never use money from a check to send gift cards, money orders, cryptocurrency, or to wire money to anyone who asks you to. Many scammers demand that you buy gift cards and send them the PIN numbers, buy cryptocurrency and transfer it to them, or send money through wire transfer services like Western Union or MoneyGram. Once you do, it’s like you’ve given them cash. It’s almost impossible to get it back.
- Toss offers that ask you to pay for a prize. If it’s free, you shouldn’t have to pay to get it. Only scammers will ask you to pay to collect a “free” prize.
- Don’t accept a check for more than the selling price. You can bet it’s a scam.
What To Do If You Sent Money to a Scammer
Here are ways to try to get your money back, depending on how you paid a scammer.
- Gift card. Gift cards are for gifts, not payments. Anyone who demands payment by gift card is always a scammer. If you paid a scammer with a gift card, tell the company that issued the card right away. When you contact the company, tell them the gift card was used in a scam. Ask them if they can refund your money. If you act quickly enough, the company might be able to get your money back. Also, tell the store where you bought the gift card as soon as possible.
Here is a list of gift cards that scammers often use — with information to help report a scam. If the card you used is not on this list, you might find the gift card company’s contact information on the card itself. Otherwise, do some research online.
- Wire transfer. If you wired money to a scammer, call the wire transfer company immediately to report the fraud and file a complaint. Reach the complaint department of MoneyGram at 1-800-MONEYGRAM (1-800-666-3947) or Western Union at 1-800-325-6000. Ask for the money transfer to be reversed. It’s unlikely to happen, but it’s important to ask.
- Money order. If you paid a scammer with a money order, contact the company that issued the money order right away to see if you can stop payment. Also, try to stop delivery of the money order: if you sent it by U.S. mail, contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455. Otherwise, contact whatever delivery service you used as soon as possible.
- Cryptocurrency. If you paid with cryptocurrency, contact the company you used to send the money and tell them it was a fraudulent transaction. Ask to have the transaction reversed, if possible.
If you think you’ve been targeted by a fake check scam, report it to