The set-up for the scam can be different every time: maybe they are buying something you advertised, paying you to do work at home, or giving you an “advance” on a sweepstakes. But, the Federal Trade Commission and the National Consumers League warn that after the initial hook, all “check overpayment” scams end the same way – with a request for you to wire money back. The scams are the fifth most common telemarketing fraud and the fourth most common Internet scam reported to the NCL. The warning about this type of fraud, often perpetrated across borders, comes during March, Fraud Prevention Month.
Here is how the scam operates: the person you are doing business with sends you a check for more than the amount they owe you, and then instructs you to wire the balance back to them. Or, they send a check, and tell you to deposit it, keep part of the amount for your own compensation, and then wire the rest back for one reason or another. The results are the same: the check eventually bounces, and you’re stuck, responsible for the full amount, including what you wired to the scammer.
- The checks in these scams are fake, but they look real enough to fool bankers. The FTC and NCL offer these tips for avoiding check overpayment scams:
- Know who you’re dealing with – independently confirm your buyer’s name, street address, and telephone number.
- If you’re selling something over the Internet, say “no” to a check for more than your selling price, no matter how tempting the plea or convincing the story.
- There is no legitimate reason for someone who is giving you money to ask you to wire money back.
These tips, and others, are available online from the FTC as part of the section on cross-border fraud of OnGuardOnline.gov, and from the National Consumers League at fraud.org. OnGuard Online is a multimedia, interactive consumer education campaign launched last fall by the FTC and a partnership of other federal agencies, the technology industry, and consumer advocacy organizations including the NCL. The site covers online safety topics, including spyware, identity theft, spam, and cross-border scams. There is no copyright on the quizzes or other information on OnGuardOnline.gov; companies and organizations can download the information and use it in their own computer security programs.
Consumers should report check overpayment scams to their state Attorney General, the National Fraud Information Center/Internet Fraud Watch, a service of the National Consumers League at www.fraud.org or 1-800-876-7060, or the FTC at www.ftc.gov or 1-877-FTC-HELP.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.htm. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
FTC, Office of Public Affairs
NCL, Communications Department