Tag Archives: Counterfeit Checks

How to sell a car

Okay, misleading title; I’m not going to lay out a big pile of tips for putting a car up for sale or any of that jazz. There are a lot of different channels out there, from online auction sites, online classifieds, Auto Trader publications and newspaper classifieds to just parking the ol’ heap on the front lawn with a sign that says “$850 O.B.O.” Pick one or several and run with it.

I’m actually only going to offer one little tip for keeping yourself safe from fraud:

When you’re selling a car to someone else, do not sign over the title, hand over the keys or otherwise let the car out of your control until you have cash in your hand.

Cashier’s check? Counterfeits are everywhere, so wait until that check has been verified as legitimate.

Personal check? NO. Just…NO.

Cash? Great! You still should check for counterfeit bills, though.

The quickest way I can think of to do all of the above? Meet the buyer at your bank or credit union. Whatever s/he hands you, take it directly into the building and make a deposit.

Mystery Shopper scams escalating.

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), mystery shopper scams are seeing an increase in frequency.

Continued high unemployment rates are likely the root of this upswing—the longer people are out of work, the more likely they are to want to believe in a job opportunity, no matter how strongly all signs are pointing to “scam.”

Worse, it appears the scammers have become a little more patient: they’re not going in for the kill until they’ve earned your trust by sending you on what appears to be a legitimate secret shopper mission.

The victim in this case doesn’t get a cashier’s check right off the bat. First they are sent to a retail location (unspecified in the IC3 press release, but I’d bet you a dollar it’s usually Wal-Mart) with instructions to spend a certain amount of money and take notes on various aspects of their shopping experience. The victim does as told, and reports back to the “employer.”

For the second assignment, the victim is mailed a cashier’s check, which is to be (you guessed it) cashed and wired back to the scammers from the same retail location, with some kept by the victim as payment. The usual result follows: the victim cashes the check, wires most of it back, and finds out a few days later that it was counterfeit and they now owe their financial institution around $2,600.

No, the victim’s bank or credit union isn’t going to cover the fake check. Why should they? It’s not their fault the victim presented a phony check.

No, the bank or credit union from whom the fake check is drawn isn’t going to cover it, either. Why should they? They didn’t create the check. It was never drawn off a legitimate account in the first place. If someone made a fake box of checks with your name and account number on them, would you feel like you had to cover those checks? Of course not. Financial institutions feel the same way.

No, the person who ends up having to cover the check is the victim. If they’re lucky, they bank at a financial institution that puts a hold on cashier’s checks. If they’re even luckier, the teller asked them about the check and recognized it as a scam, and the check was never even deposited to begin with.

But if they’re unlucky, or if they manipulated the teller into releasing the funds right away, they’ll always end up wishing there had been a hold placed or an alert teller to dissuade them.

The problem with not having a source of income is that you generally can’t afford to lose $2,600. Most people can’t afford it when they are employed. Falling for one of these schemes will only make things worse. If you get letters or email offering jobs out of the blue, don’t trust those messages. Being almost broke is still better than being a couple thousand in the hole.

United Way of Central Indiana sweepstakes scam.

File this one under, “Well, that was an odd choice.”

Apparently, people are receiving letters (which claim to be) from the United Way of Central Indiana that inform them they’ve won some sort of sweepstakes, but they have to pay taxes on the prize before they can claim it.

The letters include a check for $3,200, which recipients are (you will not be surprised by this) instructed to cash, then wire the funds to an account.

It’s the same old Lottery Scam, with a new twist: how stupid was it for these clowns to use the United Way?

Here’s the deal: The United Way is a non-profit charitable organization. As such, they are in the business of raising money to support local causes that vary by location, depending on the specific need. Also as such, they’re probably eternally strapped for cash. One of the things you’ll never hear a representative from a charity say is, “Oh, things are great! Money is just pouring in. In fact, we’ve really got too much of it right now!” Seriously—have you ever heard anyone say this?

Therefore, one of the things eternally cash-strapped charitable organizations don’t do is give away thousands of dollars to random people.

See, that’s the opposite of raising money. If they give ten thousand dollars to some random jerk, that’s just ten thousand dollars more they have to raise to replace it. Most likely one dollar at a time at fast food drive-through windows and supermarket check-out lanes.

The thing is, most people know that charities don’t operate in this way, so it’s sort of a weird choice for whoever is running this scam.

However, I also know there are some people who will get this check and wonder if it’s for real. I hope your search has led you here and I’ve helped you make an informed decision to not cash this check.

By the way, it appears that there are some people out there who have a problem with the United Way itself. Comments about how you personally don’t like the organization will be deleted with extreme prejudice. This is not the forum for it. I’m talking about a scam that uses the United Way of Central Indiana’s name and logo, not the politics or the structure of the real thing. Got me?

Mystery Shopper Scam: Kiboshed!

Last Friday afternoon, one of our Member Service Representatives here at REGIONAL helped a member avoid becoming a victim of a mystery shopper scam.

The member let us keep the check, and I spent quite a while examining it.

It was a very good counterfeit. The kind of thing that might slip right by if you weren’t paying attention (or even if you were). In this case, the member’s story tipped her off—he was going to wire almost the entire amount after he cashed it.

For one thing, the check was on genuine cashier’s check stock. It had all the security features, including watermarks and “fingerprint security” (where you hold your thumb over a symbol and it reacts to your body heat and disappears). So the presence of security features doesn’t prove anything anymore.

The check was from a company called Malteurop (more on that later), with an address in Milwaukee, WI. It was drawn on US Bank in Havre, MT. The routing number was a valid US Bank number, but for Minneapolis, MN. It just didn’t add up. To tell you the truth, I don’t know if those different cities are a reliable sign of fraud or not, but it did seem a little suspicious. A Milwaukee firm using a Montana bank with a Minnesota routing number?

Furthermore, Malteurop is a real company—one that supplies malt to beer companies all over the world. It would make no sense for this company to be checking out the customer service at Western Union.

At any rate, examining the check was interesting, but as I said before, the teller knew it was counterfeit just by talking to the member. I suppose that’s good advice for all financial institutions: have your frontline staff engage your members or customers in conversation. The information you gain could help save someone from fraud or identity theft.

I haven’t acquired the ability to read the fractional routing numbers on checks, to see if they agree with the routing number at the bottom, but I’ll be working on that skill soon.

I’d like to be like Frank Abagnale (remember Catch Me If You Can?), where you can hand me a stack of drafts and I can flip through them one time and say, “This one’s fake!” Only I’d like to get there without, you know, having committed check fraud or done time in prison for it.

Takeaways:

  1. Security features and a valid routing number on a check don’t mean a thing
  2. I can’t help but feel proud when one of our tellers makes a catch like this. Nice!