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Beware of Fake Checks

Even in today’s digital and mobile world, where electronic money transfers are common, consumers and businesses may still prefer the assumed security of paper cashier’s checks or official bank checks for large or major payments. Unfortunately, criminals have come to rely on their victim’s sense of “security” provided by cashier’s checks and official bank checks and easily create fraudulent and hard-to-detect counterfeit checks in a matter of minutes, adding a sense of legitimacy to their scams. 

Fake bank checks are typical in scams where the scammer tries to get you to cash or deposit the check. Once deposited, they ask that you send all or part of the proceeds back to them or someone else (an accomplice) before the bank tries to clear or process the check for payment and realizes the instrument is fake. If determined later that the check was counterfeit, you will likely be held responsible for the funds provided to the scammer, so you should recognize the signs of a counterfeit check to protect yourself. 

How to Spot a Fake Check

Determining whether a cashier’s check or bank check is legitimate is difficult just by physical inspection. However, there are some things you can do to help identify a fake check:

  • Make sure an accredited bank issued the check. While some counterfeit checks will include a legitimate bank’s name, a fake name is a sure giveaway.
  • Call the bank that supposedly issued the check to make sure it is valid. Make sure to look up the phone number on the bank’s official website and don’t use the phone number printed on the check (it could be a phone number controlled and answered by the scammer).
  • Consider how and why you received the check. Be skeptical and proceed with caution if someone you don’t know initiates the payment. 
  • Look at the return address of the check. If the postmark is not the same as the city and state of the “supposed” issuing bank, it might indicate the check is fake. Be especially cautious if it is from overseas.
  • Determine if the amount of the check is correct and as expected. Fake checks are often more than the agreed-upon amount. The intent is to coax the person receiving the check into wiring the overpayment back to the scammer.
  • Official checks usually contain watermarks, security threads, color-changing ink, and other security features. While scammers can sometimes copy these security features, the quality is often poorly executed.

What to Do If You Are Scammed

If you fall victim to a counterfeit check scam, you should report it immediately to any of the following agencies; The Federal Trade Commission at FTC Complaint Assistant, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, or your state or local consumer protection agencies. In addition to notifying the bank whose name is on the check, contact the website or online service where you encountered the scammer.