Thieves are constantly looking for creative ways to get their hands on your money. Here in the Coastal Bend, the dishonest are willing to take advantage of the fact that many people do not understand the rules about check deposits and wire transfers. Sometimes called the “overpayment scam,” it involves a large initial payment to the target -- much more than they are owed for the transaction -- and a large refund back to the scammer.
Although the stories that con artists use vary widely, the con is usually the same.
For instance, you might be selling something online and the scammer pretends to be interested in a purchase. Or scammers will “hire” you for a job, such as secret shopping, or tell you you’ve won a sweepstakes prize. In all cases, the amount of the check is “accidentally” far more than the amount agreed to. The scammer instructs you to deposit the check, keep the amount owed, and wire back the difference.
In another version, you receive a letter informing you that you won a jackpot, often from a foreign lottery (it is illegal in the U.S. and Canada to enter a foreign lottery by phone or mail). The letter includes a seal or other insignia to make it look authentic. There is even a check to cover the taxes on the winnings. You are instructed to deposit the check into your bank account and wire or use a prepaid debit card to send the "taxes" to a third party.
When you deposit the check, the funds appear to be available within days, but eventually the check bounces. In the mean-time, you have wired back the “overpayment” to the scammer. Your money is long gone before you are notified the check is no good and because you wired the money, you are out your hard-earned dollars.
The Better Business Bureau offers the following advice on dealing with Fake Check Scams:
Do not pay upfront fees to claim a prize. No legitimate sweepstakes company will ever ask you to pay a fee or buy something to enter or improve your chances of winning — that includes paying "taxes," "shipping and handling charges," or “processing fees” to get your prize.
Be aware that a check can bounce even after your bank allows you to withdraw cash from the deposit. Even if a bank representative tells you that a check has “cleared," you cannot be sure it won’t be detected as a fake weeks later. One thing you can be sure of is that you will be on the hook for any funds drawn against the amount.
Remember that you have to play to win. A notification that you have won a prize in a contest you do not remember entering should be a red flag. If you do regularly enter contests or sweepstakes, make sure you keep track of your entries so you can easily check to see if you entered the contest contacting you.
Be suspicious of irregular communication. Real sweepstakes will not notify you via text or bulk mail. They will not send a check in the mail without first confirming with you. And you will not be notified that you are a winner and must respond to the notification within 24 hours to collect your prize.
Never send money to people you do not know. This is especially true if they ask for the money in an unusual form such as wire transfer or prepaid debit card. Do not share personally identifiable information such as date-of-birth, bank or credit card accounts, passwords, etc. with anyone you do not know. Do not prepay taxes, insurance, or fees on something you have supposedly won.
Unsure about the legitimacy of an offer you have received? Keep in mind that you can always check the BBB Scam Tracker for up-to-date reports on scams in the area.
Got a question for the BBB? Contact Regional Director Kelly Trevino at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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