Merchants Beware: New “Free Money from the Government” Scam May Cost You

If you operate a business that accepts checks or online payments, you could be at risk for a new scam that may cost you time and money.

Produced in cooperation with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

If you operate a business that accepts checks or online payments, you could be at risk for a new scam that may cost you time and money.

Federal officials, consumer advocates, and businesses are hearing from people who have responded to ads, websites, phone calls, text messages, and visits from salespeople who claim the federal government will pay their bills – for everything from utilities, cable, and cell phones to their mortgages, student loans, and insurance premiums.

The salespeople are scam artists. There is no federal bank account set up to pay peoples’ bills.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, say these cons are pros who may use half-truths to draw people in: The federal government has public assistance programs to help people in need. But this so-called program is a fraud.

Your Business Could be at Risk

In exchange for a fee and some personal information, the scam artists give people instructions on how to use bank account and routing numbers that do not belong to them to pay their bills online, or print checks so they can make payments in person or by mail. In one scheme, they’re telling people to use the routing number of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta – 0610-0014-6 to make both check and electronic payments through the Automated Clearinghouse (ACH) Network. If you receive an ACH payment, check, cashier’s check, or certified check from a customer with this routing number, be very suspicious. Checks that have the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta routing number are not valid payment instruments. Do not accept them, and notify the authorities immediately: the National Association of Attorney Generals, your local office of the FBI, and your bank. Merchants who accept these checks run the risk of not getting paid.

How to Recognize a Fake Check

Some warning signs that a check might be counterfeit include:

  • the routing number is 0610-0014-6
  • no perforated edge on one side of the paper
  • the absence of security features, like a watermark
  • there are fewer than nine digits in the routing number
  • the bank address listed on the check doesn’t match its real address
  • a flimsy feeling to the paper

Help Your Customers Avoid This Scam

The FTC and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta issued a Consumer Alert, “Free Money” from the Government: Variations on a Scheme. Consider downloading and printing copies to share with your customers, and post it on your website.