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How To Give the Bounce to Counterfeit Check Scams

How many "You have just won the lottery" emails do you receive every day? All you have to do to get your winnings is deposit the check and wire the money to the sender to pay the taxes and fees. You're guaranteed that when they get your payment, you'll get your prize. There's just one catch: this is a scam. The check is no good, even though it appears to be a legitimate cashier's check.

The lottery angle is a trick to get you to wire money to someone that you don't know. If you were to deposit the check and wire the money, your bank would soon learn that the check was a fake. And you're out the money because the money you wired can't be retrieved, and you're responsible for the checks you deposit ? even though you don't know they're fake. This is just one example of a counterfeit check scam that could leave you scratching your head.

The Federal Trade Commission, the nation's consumer protection agency, wants you to know that counterfeit check scams are on the rise. Some fake checks look so real that bank tellers are reporting being fooled. The scammers use high quality printers and scanners to make the checks look real. Some of the checks contain authentic-looking watermarks. These counterfeit checks are printed with the names and addresses of legitimate financial institutions. And even though the bank and account and routing numbers listed on a counterfeit check may be real, the check still can be a fake.

These fakes come in many forms, from cashier's checks and money orders to corporate and personal checks. Could you be a victim? Not if you know how to recognize and report them. Fake Checks: Variations on a Scheme Counterfeit or fake checks are being used in a growing number of fraudulent schemes, including foreign lottery scams (as described above), check overpayment scams, Internet auction scams, and secret shopper scams. Check overpayment scams target consumers selling cars or other valuable items through classified ads or online auction sites. Unsuspecting sellers get stuck when scammers pass off bogus cashier's checks, corporate checks, or personal checks. Here's how it happens: A scam artist replies to a classified ad or auction posting, offers to pay for the item with a check, and then comes up with a reason for writing the check for more than the purchase price.

The scammer asks the seller to wire back the difference after depositing the check. The seller does it, and later, when the scammer's check bounces, the seller is left liable for the entire amount. In secret shopper scams, the consumer, hired to be a secret shopper, is asked to evaluate the effectiveness of a money transfer service.

The consumer is given a check, told to deposit it in their bank account, and withdraw the amount in cash. Then, the consumer is told to take the cash to the money transfer service specified, and typically, send the transfer to a person in a Canadian city. Then, the consumer is supposed to evaluate their experience ? but no one collects the evaluation. The secret shopper scenario is just a scam to get the consumer's money.

Con artists who use these schemes can easily avoid detection. When funds are sent through wire transfer services, the recipients can pick up the money at other locations within the same country; it is nearly impossible for the sender to identify or locate the recipient. You and Your Bank ? Who is Responsible for What? Under federal law, banks must make funds available to you from U.S. Treasury checks, official bank checks (cashier's checks, certified checks, and teller's checks), and checks paid by government agencies at the opening of business the day after you deposit the check. For other checks, banks must similarly make the first $100 available the day after you deposit the check.

Remaining funds must be made available on the second day after the deposit if payable by a local bank, and within five days if drawn on distant banks. However, just because funds are available on a check you've deposited doesn't mean the check is good. It's best not to rely on money from any type of check (cashier, business or personal check, or money order) unless you know and trust the person you're dealing with or, better yet ? until the bank confirms that the check has cleared. Forgeries can take weeks to be discovered and untangled. The bottom line is that until the bank confirms that the funds from the check have been deposited into your account, you are responsible for any funds you withdraw against that check.

Be careful and don't believe the emails that tell you that you won the lottery, have a special part time job, want you for a mystery shopper, or anything else that sounds too good to be true.

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