North Carolina Department of Justice

North Carolina Department of Justice

North Carolina Department of Justice
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Don’t get wiped out by check scams

3/1/2007

By Attorney General Roy Cooper
 
“The check is in the mail.” But if the check comes with a promise that you’ve won a sweepstakes or overseas lottery, cashing it could end up costing you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
 
Counterfeit check scams can start with a letter, a call from a telemarketer or even a response to something you’ve posted online, like a resume or an item for sale. Along with the announcement that you’ve just won an unexpected prize of as much as $950,000 in recent mailings, you get a counterfeit check that’s supposed to include taxes and fees before you can receive your prize.  Consumers are instructed to deposit the very legitimate looking check into their bank account, then wire the money back to the sweepstakes in order to get your large award.  After you send the money, the check turns out to be a fake—but the scammer already has your money.
 
While scams similar to this one have been popular with international fraud rings for years, advances in printing technology mean that crooks can now make very convincing counterfeit checks. Some of these scammers even send along fraud warnings and consumer protection brochures to make their phony checks more believable. Even banks have a hard time spotting these fakes because scammers often use the name and account number of a legitimate company.  It can take weeks for the check to be discovered as a fraud, usually not until the real company named on the fake check spots it as a counterfeit.
 
Some of these scammers also ask consumers for sensitive financial information to “verify” their winnings and then use the information to commit identity theft.
 
Another version of the counterfeit check scam involves the Internet. Scammers respond to people who’ve posted items for sale on legitimate websites such as Ebay and Craig’s List. The scammer claims to be interested in buying the item, then sends a certified check for more than the purchase price and asks the seller to wire back the extra money. Consumers who fall for this scam cash the check and wire the funds from their bank account, only to find out later that the check was a fake.
 
In the past year my office has heard from hundreds of North Carolinians about counterfeit checks. Sometimes we’re able to help consumers before they become a victim. For example, last year, a woman in western North Carolina almost wired $30,000 to scammers in Holland who had sent her counterfeit checks.  Fortunately her bank caught onto the scam and persuaded her to call my office instead.
 
But not all consumers are so lucky. Unfortunately, these scam artists’ fake checks sometimes find real victims in North Carolina who lose thousands of dollars.
 
Here are some warning signs that the check you got in the mail is a fake:
 
  • You’ve been told that you’ve won a lottery called “El Mundo,” “El Gordo” or from a foreign country such as Canada, Costa Rica or Australia.

 

  • You’re told to wire, send, or ship money immediately to a large U.S. city or abroad, especially to England, Canada, or Nigeria.

 

  • You’ve posted an item for sale online and receive a check for more than your asking price.

 

  • You’re told that you can receive a commission for transferring money through your account.

 

  • You get an email or telephone request to confirm, update or provide your personal account information.

 

We want to stop these scammers from getting their hands on your money. No legitimate sweepstakes or lottery operates this way. It’s illegal in most places, including North Carolina, to require purchases or the payment of fees and taxes in advance in order to receive a prize. 
 
If you receive what looks likes a counterfeit check or get a call or letter claiming that you’ve won a phony lottery, don’t respond.   Instead, report the scam to the Attorney General’s Office by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina.
 
My office is working with law enforcement across the country and around the world to investigate lottery fraud rings, and we’re also working to raise consumers’ and bank employees’ awareness about these scams.
 
Attorney General Roy Cooper and his staff are on the lookout for scams that seek to rob unsuspecting North Carolinians. We are here to be of service when you need us, but through consumer education efforts like these columns we hope to help consumers avoid problems from the start.
 
Note to editors: This is one in a series of columns that the Attorney General is distributing to educate consumers. If you have questions or would like to receive future columns via email instead of U.S. mail, please contact Catherine Nickalson at (919) 716-6409 or cnickalson@ncdoj.gov .