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Preventing Fraud – How to Avoid Fake Check Scams

A photograph of a person writing a check

Posted September 20, 2021

Have you ever received a check in the mail with a request to send some money back? Local law enforcement and government authorities have recently begun sounding the alarm on “check” scams, a type of fraud that has been around for many years, but has made a resurgence during the pandemic.

While the actual scam may vary, the general premise is the same. Scammers will connect with victims by phone, email, online, through social media or through the mail. Sometimes, it will be in connection to a legitimate item the victim is selling online. The fraudsters will send these victims a realistic, but fraudulent check worth more than the amount owed for the item, with instructions to deposit the check into their personal account and send back the excess funds or gift cards purchased with those funds. They will often instruct the victims to photograph the gift cards and email the images or provide them with the card numbers by phone or text message.

In Hawaii, check scams requiring victims to purchase gift cards are on the rise. Unfortunately, by the time the fraudulent check is discovered, the scammers are long gone, leaving the victim with the financial loss.

While it may seem hard to spot a fake check, the Federal Trade Commission provided a few tips on ways to avoid becoming a victim of fake check scams:

• Be cautious if it says you’ve won a prize: Scammers may try to trick you by saying you’ve won a prize. They’ll then send you a check, but will ask that you wire back money to cover various fees. Once you’ve handed over the money for these fees, it will be discovered that the check was a fake. Legitimate lotteries or sweepstakes will not ask you to return any of your winnings for fees.

• Never deposit checks and send money back: This is a classic tactic used by scammers. By having the victim deposit a fraudulent check into their account and send money back, they can get their hands on funds before the financial institution realizes the check is bad.

• If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is: Don’t fall for mystery shopper ads that promise to make you a lot of money quickly, or offer extravagant perks, gifts or incentives in exchange for your participation. Even if the company seems legitimate, be cautious. Scammers are experts on gaining your trust and preying on your emotions, so they will often make big and exciting promises with the hopes of luring you in.

If you find yourself a victim of fake check scams or another type of fraud or scam, contact your financial institution immediately so that action can be taken to prevent you from further losses. Also make sure to notify your local police, and report the incident it to the Federal Trade Commission, to help them in their fight against fraudulent practices. For more tips on how you can avoid becoming a fraud victim, information and resources, visit www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts.

More resources: Protecting Your Accounts

About HSFCU Marketing

Hawaii State FCU firmly believes that financial education empowers people to make smarter decisions throughout their lives, resulting in a better financial future. We do this by providing useful financial tools such as educational blogs, online courses and free webinars on a variety of topics including planning for retirement, debt management and buying a home. For more information on these and other resources, including free financial calculators and budget-friendly recipes, visit www.HawaiiStateFCU.com and click on “Financial Health.”

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