How to Spot a Fake Check

  • By David Lukic
  • Published: Oct 23, 2020
  • Last Updated: Mar 18, 2022

Fake check scams are nothing new, but according to the FTC, this practice is on the rise. FTC claims that they receive hundreds of thousands of complaints per year from U.S. citizens who have been robbed of hundreds and even thousands of dollars through fake check scams. 

Criminals are always looking for an angle to trick you into parting with your hard-earned money. Cashier’s checks and checks, in general, are thought by many people to be more secure, more dependable, and that is what the thieves are counting on when they engage you with this scam. 

Common Ways You Might Encounter Fake Check Fraud

fake check fraud

The Lottery Version of Fraudulent Check

You receive a check in the mail claiming you won the International Lottery or some other important sounding prize. The check you won is in your hands, but there is a catch. You have to pay taxes and fees. So, the paperwork instructs you to deposit your winnings and then send a small fee to cover these expenses. After you comply and a few days pass, you receive word from your bank that the fraudulent check bounced and was counterfeit. Now you are out the money you sent the scammers, you owe fees on the bounced check and have to cover the amount the bank lost. There are a few variations on this theme, but the basics persist. 

Overpayment Check Fraud

How it works is the scammer offers a check for something the victim is selling or renting online. They write the check for more than the asking price and provide some excuse for doing so. They then ask the seller to refund the overpayment, but in the end, their original fake check bounces, and the seller is out the refund, which was really just scam money. 

The Secret Shopper Check Fraud

The secret shoppers’ scam is when the victim is offered a job as a secret shopper. They are instructed to either buy goods and send them somewhere, or they are sent a check to test a money transfer service. They cash the check, take the money to a wire transfer service and send it along to the scammers. They are then supposed to write a review, but by the time they figure it out, the check they were sent has been identified as bogus, and they are out the cash they mailed off. 

How to Tell if a Check is Fake & How to Protect Yourself Against it

Although criminals are getting very sophisticated and using high-tech printing methods, to make a check look convincing, there are ways to spot a fake check.

  • Examine the check and look at the bank name. Use this resource to verify that it is a legitimate bank.

  • Contact the bank directly and ask if the check is real and that the funds are available to cover it.

  • If you received the check without entering any contest, or applying for a job, it’s probably a fake. Use common sense and not emotion when determining if the check is fake or not.

  • Also check the postmark on the envelope to see where it came from.

  • If the check is above the amount it should be (for the overpayment scam), do not deposit or cash it. Instead, contact the buyer and have them issue another one for the exact amount. If you never hear from them again, it was a scam.

  • The FDIC warns to look for watermarks, security threads, color-changing ink, and other security features on the check. 

  • Throw out any prize winnings or foreign lottery notifications.

  • You will never be asked to pay for anything upon winning a prize; it’s a financial scam.

  • Never send money to strangers. 

  • Take the check to your local bank and have them examine it.

  • If you are selling something, use an escrow service of your choice to protect your identity.

What to Do if You Are a Victim of a Fake Check Fraud

It’s easy to get excited when you receive money in the mail that you were not expecting. Thousands of Americans are taken in each year by these types of scams. If you are a victim of a fake check scam, here is what to do:

  • Contact your bank and explain the situation. You may be responsible for fees and paying back the funds.

  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

  • Also report the incident to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

  • Visit this link to find the appropriate local Attorney General’s office where you can also report your victimization.

You cannot be too careful these days. Remember, nothing is for free, and companies don’t just give out prizes to strangers for no reason. Always be on the lookout for scams.

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