Saturday, November 21, 2015

Fake Check Recipient Q & A


**DISCLAIMER: I am NOT an expert on bank and check fraud policies and laws. I am NOT an attorney. I can NOT give legal advice. Do your own research.

Visit helpwithmybank.gov for more info. Also check the links posted throughout this article, and on the right side of my blog in U.S. Resources section.
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*Input welcome from anyone with expertise in this area, who can provide additional information which may assist or protect counterfeit check recipients.
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Q.  I received a suspicious check or money order ie; advanced payment for a job. What should I do?

A. DO NOT BLINDLY DEPOSIT or cash the check, or you will get SCREWED!
(common sense).
Do NOT wire money to the scammer who sent you the check!
(more common sense).
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Q. But what if the check is authentic? I need this money bad!

A. LINK: How to spot a fake check

If you're still not convinced the check is fake and you're being scammed, you can try to verify its authenticity, prior to cashing or depositing it.
You can call the issuing bank (not your bank) and ask for verification. But they might charge a verification fee. And many banks won't assist you. They'll probably say they don't release personal customer info to 3rd parties. And some banks will only verify the legitimacy of the account, and not whether the funds are available. Understand verifying an account number on a check is not enough to ensure that the check is legitimate.

DO NOT use the phone number printed on the check or envelope for verification, because you might be calling an impostor - fake bank teller who is part of the scam. Search online for credible bank customer service contact numbers, before making the call.


You might also call your bank and ask what to do. Tell them you received a suspicious check or money order you want to verify before depositing, and maybe they'll offer their friendly professional advice. Such as, OMFG do not bring a counterfeit check to our bank!!

There are a few online check verification tools, such as US Personal checks Reverse ABA routing number lookup but I won't vouch for those sketchy methods.

A lot of things can go wrong. The sender/scammers might actually have a legit account with sufficient funds to cover the check, but withdraw the money before your check clears. Or, they may have access to another person's bank account information, which they used to print the fake check.

In other words, if you're not a check verification expert, and you're not 200% certain you can trust the sender, and the check is good... you are taking a HUGE risk cashing or depositing it at your bank.

If nothing will stop you from trying to get that cash in your hand, the safest approach is try to cash the check in person at the writers bank. But most likely the issuing bank isn't around the corner. It's across the country or it's some screwy foreign bank. And I don't know what the laws are regarding that. You might, or definitely WILL, get in serious legal trouble trying to cash a counterfeit check at the bank who supposedly issued it. Because they won't believe you when you say a scammer mailed you the check. They'll probably assume YOU are the scammer who printed the fake check.

CALL THEM, and ask for check verification. If they won't verify the check over the phone, ask them what the legal risks are, before you walk into their bank with a fake check in your hand.
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Money Orders:
1. The legal limit for USPS money orders is: $1,000 for domestic, and $700 for international. If the money order exceeds this amount, it is fake.
2. When held to the light, a repeating watermark of Benjamin Franklin should appear on the left and runs from top to bottom.
3. To the right of the watermark is a vertical, multicolored thread that weaves in and out of the paper. When held to the light, the thread appears continuous, with alternating horizontal dark and light bars behind it. The letters “USPS” repeat backward and forward throughout the thread.
4. There should be no discoloration around the dollar amounts (which could indicate the amounts were changed).

If you're suspicious call the U.S. Postal Service Money Order Verification System at 866-459-7822 - before attempting to cash or deposit.
 Source: USPS.com


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Alternatively, and much more easily, you could simply email the sender and LIE. Tell them you deposited the check and see what happens next. GUARANTEED they will instantly demand you wire money back to them... in a hurry, before the check bounces, which is usually within a few days, 2 weeks at most.

Expect the scammers to reply with something like this:
"My plans changed. I cancelled my flight. I'm not coming to the US. I no longer require your services, but I want my money back! I accidentally over-paid you. You accepted my check/payment, and it's your responsibility to refund the money I sent. I will call the cops if you don't immediately wire my money to me!" or whatever LIES they tell.

Presto! Now you know the check is fake and you're being scammed, without wasting your time calling banks.
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Q. Okay I'm convinced this check is fake. What do I do with the check I was sent?

A. Even holding a counterfeit check in your possession can be considered a crime, regardless who printed it and where you got it from. So I suggest you destroy it, and cut off all ties to the scammers.

Don't send the check back. You'd only be wasting money on postage, and it might even be a criminal offense to mail a counterfeit check back to the crooks who printed it. And it's a fake sender address right? The bottom line is, scammers don't want their fake check back, they want your real money.

My advice is first make a copy of the check for your personal records, just in case the scammers start calling you, harassing you or making serious threats... and you need to contact law enforcement, at which point you may need to provide a check copy to police to aid the investigation. Or at least you might need whatever "useful" info was on the check and the envelope it came in. Bank and sender name, address, ph#, account number etc. That is unlikely, and probably all that info is phony and useless to cops, but you can't predict what the criminal's next move is, so consider retaining a copy until you're sure the scammers have lost interest in their mark, and are gone for good.

Related article: Mobile (electronic) Check Deposit Fraud

I would also recommend you do not delete your email or text message exchanges with the scammers. Save their phone numbers too. You may need that data if things get ugly. Maybe you can present the emails or texts as proof you were suckered into an employment scam, or over-payment scam, or whatever. Email addresses, messages, phone numbers etc, may be useful in tracking down scammers who are threatening or harassing you, and more importantly, useful for your legal defense if necessary.
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Q. I didn't deposit or cash the check, or wire any money, but I want to report this fraud. Who do I contact?

A. If you want to file a formal complaint, the info you provide may be useful to authorities.
Just be advised each agency has their own specific complaint criteria, plus legal and privacy policies. They may only want to hear from actual fraud victims, not accept complaints from people who just received a fake check in the mail. Carefully read legal & privacy info and agency criteria before deciding what to do.

FTC Complaint Assistant
Fraud.org (FTC partner) 
US Financial Fraud Enforcement Task
Report counterfeit money orders to US Postal Inspector
State Consumer Protection offices
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Q. It's too late. I received and deposited a bad check. What happens next? What do I do?

A. You are 100% responsible for any checks you deposit, and any money you withdrew. Banks will often cash fraudulent checks, and allow customers to access those funds, but they're not at all liable for any money they lose. YOU are. I don't know of any bank in the world who offers a counterfeit check protection plan.

Buh-bu-buh my bank should have known this was a fake check, and not accept it and give me that money! Isn't that their job? WRONG. It's your job to know when you're depositing a counterfeit check in their bank.

Here are your options:

1. File a police report to show you're a scam victim - not a criminal. You can then take a copy of the police report to your bank manager to offer as evidence you are a scam victim, not a sneaky thief trying to rip off your bank. That's YOUR decision to make, not mine. If you choose not to file a police report... you'll still have to deal with your bank about that counterfeit cashiers check you deposited, and the longer you procrastinate, the less proactive you are, the more dishonest you look. If you do file a police report, and something bad happens as a result, do NOT blame me! Again, I'm not an attorney, and not an  authority on this subject. It's entirely your call to make.

2. Visit your bank manager immediately and explain you just realized you are a scam victim, and that check you deposited was probably fake. If you filed a police report, bring a copy with you.

What happens next depends on your bank policy and attitude toward fraud victim customers, and if they believe you or not, and value your business, and if you withdrew funds on the check, and whether or not this is the first time it's happened, or you've done this before. Hopefully you've been banking a long time with them and they'll be cool about it, and let you off the hook with only a warning and maybe a small penalty fee. And hopefully you don't have a prior history involving bad checks. But be prepared for what might happen:

1. Bank closes your account.

2. Bank freezes your account and you cannot withdraw or transfer money until the matter is resolved.

3. Bank charges you a penalty fee.

4. Bank places you in CHEX systems, and your credit is screwed. And you may find it difficult to open a new account at a different bank, once you're in that system database.

5. If you withdrew money on a bad check, you will of course have to repay your bank in full, plus REASONABLE penalty charges incurred. (Read more below) If you don't repay the money, the bank may sue you, garnish your wages or other income sources, and possibly file a criminal complaint. Try to work out a repayment plan if you can't immediately repay the full amount you withdrew. Also try to handle the problem rationally and respectfully. Don't piss off your bank. You don't want them calling the cops or dragging you to court.

FTC Federal Benefits Garnishment
Bank account Levy -Garnishment
Help with my bank - Garnishment 
Nolo.com- Garnishments and attachments
Bankrate.com

6. Worst case scenario? Bank reports you to police or FBI, and you're subsequently investigated for check fraud and possibly arrested.

Fraudaid.com
Cross-check.com Edit: My apologies for posting this link years ago, to provide readers more info. I am no longer comfortable linking to the cross-check.com organization
Justice.gov
Contact your Attorney General

The only comfort I can offer, comes from what limited info I've gathered online.
Not many people have been arrested in cases like these.
Nor prosecuted, convicted, and sent to prison over it. Banks would rather not file criminal complaints or sue you, especially if they believe you were scammed. They don't want the hassle or expense, and they don't want to lose valued customers either. I would imagine they also don't want the bad publicity coming from genuinely defrauded customers. Mostly what banks want is their money back.

The ones getting busted and doing jail time are usually the people deliberately writing bad checks, forging checks, stealing checks, etc... Rarely innocent victims of fraudsters.

If you have no criminal history related to theft or fraud, or cashing bad checks, and you take immediate action to protect yourself and clear the problem up with your bank... odds are good you can resolve this fiasco without facing criminal charges.

All that said, I can't possibly assure scam victims they won't be arrested for cashing or depositing a bad check or money order.
It certainly can, and has happened.

Ashley Hamilton story
Matthew Shinnick story

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Q. I wired money to scammers and I want them arrested and to get my money back! What can  I do?

A. File complaints with law enforcement. Request a criminal investigation.
Will the thieves ever be caught? Will you ever get your money back?
Probably not, but it's worth a shot. And doing nothing definitely won't help.

FBI IC3 Cybercrimes Division
National Fraud Information Center

You should also go ballistic online. Visit every scam, fraud, ripoff complaint site and blog you can find and post comments about your predicament (minus personal info). Do your damndest to expose the scammers all over the WWW, to protect other people. You might not see justice served for yourself, but you can still do your part to warn and help others.
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Money Laundering?

Highly unlikely.
More likely is...
I give you something fake and worthless.... You give me back something real and valuable... $$$
Once you accept my fake worthless "gift" or "payment" or "prize"....
I then use every tool at my disposal to squeeze cash out of you. Including making threats (extortion, blackmail)  Intimidation. Call cops. Have you arrested. Or sue you. Or put a voodoo curse on you. Or whatever F**** LIES THEY TELL to get at your money.
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Now.... RELAX. :) Take a deep breath. Do not panic. Criminals use your fear against you. If you cashed or deposited a bad check, first clear up the problem with your bank. Take appropriate action to protect yourself, your good name and reputation. Then, worry about how to deal with those nasty scumbags who tried to rip you off and ruin your credit score, reputation, and destroy your life.
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ONE OTHER THING.
Is your bank or a collection agency taking advantage of you, ripping you off, for being an unwitting victim of a check fraud scam?

Please, Tell us your story. Anonymously.
Don't forget to include the Bank or collection agency Names and general Location.

A friend recently told me she received a fake $2,000 check from a dating site scammer, who had offered to pay her rent & utility bills. She tried to cash the check, but the bank teller intercepted it, and my friend was unable to withdraw any money on that bum check. $Zero.00

Nonetheless, her bank froze her account, and demanded she repay the FULL check sum ($2,000).
Her bank threatened to garnish her wages until the full check amount was repaid. (Her employer uses direct payroll deposit, which gave her bank easy wage garnishment leverage).

?????????!!!!!!!!!!!!

That made absolutely no sense to me. As far as I'm concerned, there is NO justification for a bank to demand a "refund" for money they never actually dispensed to their customers.

I won't name the specific bank or branch here, for obvious legal reasons, but I can tell you they're operating in various western US W*****T stores. And that this particular bank chain reneged on a Federal Bailout 'loan'. One wonders if such a bank might try to squeeze quick and easy cash out of their scam victim customers to pay off that delinquent Federal Bailout Loan.

I told her... STOP!! DO NOT PAY YOUR BANK $2,000 !!!
In my opinion, a $15 or $20 penalty fee is the Max I think any bank deserves, especially for a first time offense. Not the full check amount. NOT TWO THOUSAND BUCKS !!!

So she went back to her bank to address the problem, and fortunately they got off her ass. I don't know if she paid a small penalty charge, but her bank is no longer demanding she pay them $2,000 bucks.

But even so, my recommendation in such a case is to drop such a stupid dirty bank, and move your money to a different stupid dirty bank. Hah.
Seriously though, if her bank puts her in ChexSystems, she might not be able to open a new account elsewhere, and that would be a considerable problem.

Now, maybe you're wondering if my lady "friend" was lying to me about all of this,  so I would send her money to bail her ass out of this jam. Yes, the thought did cross my mind ;) But I'm giving her the benefit of doubt, and to date, she has not asked me for a dime.

As it currently stands, all of this is a tricky gray area. How banks respond to the issue will vary from bank to bank, and largely depends on whether you're a repeat offender or not. If you're frequently depositing bad checks, the civil penalty fees may rise substantially, and you're much more likely to face serious criminal charges. If your bank sues you, or garnishes your wages, that opens up a whole new can of worms. The laws and fees will vary from county to county, state to state.

Bear in mind your bank's policy is not necessarily LAW.
Do a lot of research. Educate yourself. Find out what the bad check and restitution laws are in your county and state, to determine what your best options are.

And Beware...

CHECK DIVERSION COMPANIES
*Masquerading as state or district attorneys.
*Intimidating consumers with false threats of criminal charges.
*Deceiving consumers into paying extra fees for costly financial education class.

Under the Law, Government prosecutors must make the determination to pursue a potential bad check violation. Not just banks, or some shady check diversion company, acting alone on their own illegitimate authority. Read more about that problem here:. consumerfinance.gov

How to file a Consumer Complaint about a Bank
OCC - Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
CFPB Consumer Complaint

"Fraudsters are exploiting a discrepancy between the deadlines federal law imposes on banks for making deposits available to customers and the actual time it takes to clear checks and money orders." philadelphiafed.org

Bad check restitution program (BCRP)
Check Kiting
I cashed a fake check 3 months ago at a bank....

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