How to Spot Bogus Documents and Fake Check Scams

Look for these crooked clues to identify fake check scams and other phony documents: Internet Scambusters #387

Can you spot fake check scams or phony documents when
they drop into your mailbox?

In this week’s issue, we show you some of the most
common mistakes crooks make when they send forged
payments or checks drawn on a non-existent bank.

And we highlight some of the tell-tale signs that a
letter or other document you received may be bogus.

But first, we urge you to take a look at these top
articles from our other websites:

Beware — Real Estate Computer Crimes on the Rise: Learn the three different types of real estate computer crimes circulating on the Internet.

Finding the Best Business Credit Cards: The best business credit cards out there can be found at your local bank, and here’s why.

The New Fitness Shoes — A Fitness Revolution… or Not: Get the scoop on whether the fitness shoes that shape you while you walk are the real thing.

Finding the Perfect Garden Gift: Check out these unique, creative, and plain ol’ useful garden gifts for that special gardener in your life.

And now for the main feature…

How to Spot Bogus Documents and Fake Check Scams

Fake check scams arrive in your mailbox as part of
another con trick — like an advance fee fraud or a
phony payment for something you sold online.

Hopefully, Scambusters subscribers already know never
to cash a check that arrives out of the blue, and
certainly never to wire part of the payment to someone
else. If you’re not sure on this, read more about
advance fee scams on our site: SCAM: The Nigerian Advance Fee Scheme.

But this week we want to pass on some further tips that
can help you spot not only fake checks but other bogus
documents that may turn up in your mailbox as part of a
scam. Let’s start with the checks.

Suspect Checks

A fake check scam may involve either a phony check,
usually created on a PC and home printer, or a genuine
check that’s been stolen and forged.

Here are some things you can do to avoid becoming a

* Ensure the check number (usually top right) is the
same as the last digits on the line at the bottom of
the check (called the MICR Line) and that the signature
bears some resemblance to the name of the payer.

* The first, nine-digit part of the MICR line is called
the routing number. It identifies the bank that issued
the check. You can go online and check if the number really does square up with the bank name printed on the check.

* A favorite trick of fake check scam artists is to use
the routing number of a bank on the other side of the
country from where the victim lives; that way it takes
longer — up to a couple of weeks — to identify the
fraud. So, again, be wary when this happens.

* Staying with that MICR line, scrutinize the actual
typeface/font used. Compare it with the font on the
same line in your own checkbook. If it’s different, the
check is probably a dud.

* See if it has perforations. If not, it was done on a
home printer. That doesn’t necessarily make it a fake
— plenty of people use PC check software — but it
should at least arouse suspicions.

* Look for signs that the signature or some other
element of the check has been altered or tampered with
— especially the printed payer’s name/address.

Stains around handwritten areas suggest the original
signature, sum or name of the recipient may have been
erased and replaced.

* If in any doubt, track down and phone the issuing
bank to confirm the check is genuine.

* If you do deposit a check from someone you don’t
know, or whose financial stability you’re unsure of,
don’t take any cash on it until it is cleared. You can
ask the bank to let you know when this happens.

Banks often can’t immediately tell if a check you
deposit is genuine but they have a legal obligation to
give you cash, usually within 1 to 5 days, if you ask
for it. If the check subsequently turns out to be fake,
you’ll have to pay back the cash to the bank.

If the check is payment for something you sold, don’t
hand over the item until the check has cleared. Make
this a condition of sale to the buyer. To speed things
up, ask them to pay with a check drawn either on a
local bank, or a bank with a branch in your locality.

Here are a couple of useful sources for more
information about fake check scams.

Facts for Consumers: Giving the Bounce to Counterfeit Check Scams

Consumer Advisory: Avoiding Cashier’s Check Fraud

Bogus Documents

The most common giveaways in bogus documents are
misspellings (look out for these in checks too) or poor
grammar. You can learn more about this from our earlier
issue covering scam language: Know the Lingo — How to Get Wise to Scam Language.

A few other signals to look out for in letters you
receive include:

* They get your name wrong or use a vague salutation,
like “Dear Friend.”

* They give only a PO Box number for an address, with
no street information. If there’s also no phone number
or email/website address, be suspicious and check them
out extremely carefully.

* Scammers also use false addresses and phone numbers.
Check them out in the phone book.

* If the document purports to be from a company, check
them online, with state and local government business
licensing departments, and with other local agencies in
the area where they’re supposed to be located.

* Plastering documents with logos of genuine, official
organizations make it look like these outfits endorse
the sender. Best rule is to disregard these entirely.

* Disclaimers and other important information about
fees are often hidden in the fine print. Always read
the fine print!

Our Two Golden Rules

If you follow our two golden rules for suspicious
documents, you should never lose money because of them:

* A letter from someone you don’t know that says you’ve
won money in a competition or lottery you didn’t enter
is always a scam.

* If a letter asks for personal, confidential
information like your Social Security number or bank
account details, that too is a scam. Legitimate
organizations just don’t operate this way.

As always, we urge you to be skeptical with any
documents and payments that come from unfamiliar
sources. Combine this with a healthy dose of common
sense and you’ll avoid those bogus documents and fake
check scams.

That’s all we have for today, but we’ll be back next
week with another issue. See you then!