If you've received an unexpected check or an offer that appears too good to be true, be careful – it might be a scam.

Scammers are out to fool you into cashing in phony checks and then having you send them your real cash. Don't fall for it. Find out how these check cons work and how you can keep your money safe.

How Fake Check Scams Work

If an unknown person asks you to deposit a check for them, which might be for a substantial amount, and then instructs you to return a portion of the money via cash, money order, gift cards, or wire transfer, proceed with caution. They may give you a plausible reason why you can’t keep all the money, but the result is always the same: the check is fake, and you will be responsible for the funds you sent out. This is the hallmark of a counterfeit check scam.

Cashing a fake check could really end up costing you.

Fake check scams take on various forms but share a common feature: the checks look authentic, complete with security details and the name of a genuine financial institution. They could resemble business checks, personal checks, cashier's checks, money orders, or even electronic checks. However, when you attempt to deposit them, you'll discover they are worthless.

Watch out for these common fake check tricks:

  1. Secret Shopper Trick: Some scammers pretend they're hiring secret shoppers or personal assistants. They give you a check and ask you to buy gift cards for them.

  2. Overpayment Oops: On websites where you buy and sell things, some fraudsters pretend they want to buy your stuff or rent your place. They send you a check for too much money on purpose and ask for the extra back.

  3. Car Wrap Rip-off: Here, you're told you can earn cash by putting ads on your car. They give you a check and tell you to pay the people who'll put the ads on your car, but those people aren't real.

  4. Prize Lie: You get told you've won money or a prize. They send a check to make it look real and ask you to send money for fake taxes or fees. When you try to cash the check (usually after you've sent them money), it's no good.

  5. Signup Scam: Sometimes, you might get a check for a small amount, like two dollars. This check is real, but cashing it might sign you up for something you didn't want or give your info to the bad guys, who could steal your identity.

How to Protect Yourself

Here are some steps you can take to stay safe from fake check scams:

  • Never expect that check funds will cover your expense for wiring money or purchasing gift cards.
  • Never accept a check for an amount that’s more than you’re owed.
  • Throw away offers that ask you to pay money to get a prize – especially for a drawing you never entered.
  • Don’t cash checks from parties you’re not doing business with.
  • Be aware that just because a check has cleared doesn’t mean it’s real – the funds could be deducted once the bank discovers it’s fake.

What to Do If You’ve Been the Victim of a Scam

If you think you've sent money to a scammer because of a fake check, here's what you should do:

  • Get in touch with your bank, credit union, or the company you used to send the money right away.
  • If you used a gift card to pay the scammer, call the company that gave you the card immediately.
  • Tell the authorities about the scam by reporting it to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.FTC.gov, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at USPIS.gov, or get in touch with your state's attorney general through NAAG.org.

To keep your finances safe, only trust a check if you're sure about the person who gave it to you. For tips on how to protect your account, talk with your bank today!


It All Adds Up to Trouble

In one recent year, the Federal Trade Commission received more than 27,000 reports of fake check scams totaling more than $28 million.