Check Fraud & Scam Prevention

Identity Theft is certainly one of the most high-profile types of fraud, but many others exist to try to trick you out of your hard-earned money.  While some are new scams that use the latest technology, most are old, low-tech versions resurrected sometimes with new twists.  Below are some of the more common scams and tips to help you avoid becoming a victim.                     

Don't Be Fooled by Fake Checks

Fraud artists often use counterfeit cashier's checks, money orders and other checks to trick victims into sending money. Many of these scams involve offers that arrive by mail or e-mail or that are in connection with internet sales. 

If you deposit or cash the check or money order it likely will not "clear" (be paid) when it is sent to the bank on which it is supposed to be drawn. The fraudulent check will likely be returned to your bank and charged against your account. Depending on the circumstances and your state's laws, you may be held responsible for the entire amount of the fraudulent check.

In general, be very suspicious of offers that seem too good to be true. Stop and ask yourself, "Why would someone I never met contact me for help getting money out of a foreign country?", "Why would a stranger send me a big check for no apparent reason?"  When in doubt, it's usually best to walk away from the deal immediately.

Scams Often Targeted to Older Adults

Playing to their trusting nature and hoping to confuse, scam artists commonly prey upon older adults, especially those who live alone.  The following are just a few examples of scams often targeted to older adults.

Bank Employee Impersonator: Consumer receives a telephone call from someone claiming to be a bank employee and consumer is told there is a computer problem or security investigation and asked to provide his or her account information for verification.  Consumer later discovers that funds are missing from their bank account.

Fake Inheritance: Consumer receives a letter or e-mail advising them they are entitled to an inheritance from a distant relative they do not know. Consumer is asked to provide bank account and personal information to complete the necessary paperwork.  Later, a bill is received for inheritance taxes and the consumer is advised to send the money in advance of receiving the inheritance. The consumer sends the large sum of money, but never receives the inheritance, and in some cases may receive a worthless check.

Pigeon Drop Scam: Strangers approach a consumer on the street or in a public area with a story about a large sum of money they allegedly found.  Consumer is invited to share the wealth with the strangers, but in order to show good faith, the consumer is asked to withdraw a large sum of money to contribute to the sharing.  The strangers may provide explanations of why they need the participation of the consumer, i.e. they don’t have a bank account, are in a new area, don’t have legal status in the country, etc.  

Consumer enters bank and negotiates a cash withdrawal from their account and gives the money to the stranger who places it with the found money in a bag or box. Strangers then give all the money in the container to the consumer entrusting them with the funds while they leave to verify something. Consumer later discovers, after the strangers do not return, that the money was replaced with paper.

Bank Official Fraud: Someone claiming to be a bank official, FBI agent or police officer contacts a bank customer and indicates that they are investigating suspected employee fraud at the bank and needs the customer’s help in trapping the thief.  

The “official” asks the customer to go to the bank and withdraw a sum of cash from the teller. They ask that the money be placed in a bank envelope and brought directly to them. The official receives the envelope and pretends to count the cash. They inform the customer that it appears the teller took one or two $100 bills, and they will need the money as evidence. The official departs never to be heard from again.

Check Washing

Check washing occurs when information on stolen checks is carefully erased with chemicals, often those of common household products, and then re-written, to the order of the thieves themselves and usually with higher amounts.  Often, the signature of the account owner remains intact, so the forgery is more difficult to spot.

Many times, checks are stolen from mailboxes, especially outgoing payments.  To help prevent this from happening to your checks, never leave bills in your mailbox to be picked up.  Always drop them in a mailbox or at the Post Office yourself.  If these extra errands do not sound appealing, consider electronic bill payment.  Free with many of our accounts, you can make and schedule payments safely and securely from your home or office. 

If you would like more information about check fraud and scam prevention call, contact us, or stop by one of our locations today.

NOTE: United Community Banks is providing the above information for educational purposes only and assumes no liability for the use of this information and does not guarantee that the above recommendations will prevent fraud.