Beware of Unexpected Checks

So you received a check in the mail that you weren’t expecting?  Beware.

 I often talk to people who have received a letter in the mail along with a check for a large sum of money (usually between $2,000 and $5,000). The letter says that they have won some sort of lottery or they have been selected to be a secret shopper or any number of things that promise they are going to get money. All they have to do is deposit the enclosed check and send some of the money back to the people by wire transfer (typically Western Union or MoneyGram).

 That large check looks so wonderful especially in this tough economy but consider the following.

  1. Keep in mind that there are people out there that make fake checks even using real check paper.
  2. Anyone can create a professional looking letter with nice letterhead and put a business name on it. Just because the letter says it came from a business doesn’t mean it actually did.
  3. You might also be interested to know that money sent by wire transfer such as Western Union or MoneyGram is not traceable so there’s no way to track where your money went or who has it.
  4. If you deposit the check, your bank may not recognize if it is a fake until days or weeks later and guess who is responsible to the bank for the money and any penalty fees. That’s right. You.

 Typically the envelope containing the letter and check has no return address and Canadian post markings. The letter may refer to an actual U.S. company; the check may be drawn on an actual business account, and might even instruct you to call a phone number before you deposit the check. This is the most common form that I hear about but there are others.  The bank account information most likely was stolen, and may constitute corporate ID theft.

 Bottom line if you receive a check and the sender wants you to send some of it back by wire transfer, keep in mind you just might be giving them free money, and again, you’re on the hook for those funds. Keep in mind that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  For more information regarding this and other scams, visit our website.

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Written by

Jason is the Manager of Dispute Resolution Services with the BBB and primary handles consumer complaints. He also assists consumers with business inquiries. He is a regular contributor to the blog.

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