Fraud involving fake checks has mushroomed in recent months. Because of the pandemic and now the holiday season, many people are looking for jobs or additional work. And the victims are often young adults.
Fraudsters can review Craigslist, Facebook, or Job Board posts from anywhere in the world, so it is an easy way for them to find potential victims. Craigslist has fairly prominent warnings about frauds, even stating directly: "Don't accept cashier/certified checks or money orders."
Criminals "create an illusion," adding: "You'll have a check in your hand, then deposit it in your bank account." It doesn't look fake. It feels completely risk-free.
This is how a fake check scheme works. Criminals send checks to their victims, instructing them to deposit the check in the victim's checking account. The money initially shows up in the victims' bank accounts. Then the criminals — using various ploys, like phony job offers, "overpayment" for an item bought online, or bogus sweepstakes — persuade the victims to send some of the money back, often by wire transfer or a gift card. The check eventually bounces, leaving the victim owing money to the bank.
In one account in 2020, a consumer in Oklahoma received an offer at his Gmail email address. The "very professional looking" message said he could earn $250 a week by driving his car around after having it "wrapped" with an ad for BUD LIGHT. (Banks have issued warnings about "shrink wrap" scams involving beer and energy drink brands.) He took the job and received a check in the mail for $2,550 — allegedly to pay for the wrap job. He deposited the check and the next day was able to withdraw $1,500, and was instructed to redeposit the money into a separate bank account held by the "car specialist."
However, the consumer grew suspicious when he received a text message telling him to withdraw an additional $500 and put it on an iTunes gift card. By then, the criminal's bank account had been closed, and the money was gone.
Scammers are often successful because consumers don't realize:
Crediting a bank account does not mean the cashed check is valid. Federal banking rules require that when someone deposits a check into an account, the bank must make the funds available right away, within a day or two. Even when a check is credited to an account, it does not mean the check is good. A week or so later, if the check bounces, the bank will want the money back. Consumers, not the fraudsters, will be on the hook for the funds.
If you get a message urging you to deposit a check and wire money back, it's a scam. Every time. No matter the story. If this has happened to you, file a complaint at ftc.gov/complaint.