McGraw

By DARRELL McGRAW

CHARLESTON -- "Your luck has changed! You just won the lottery! A cashier's check is enclosed to cover the taxes and fees. All you have to do to get your winnings is deposit the check and wire the money to the sender to pay the taxes and fees. You are guaranteed your prize when they receive their payment."

If you received a letter or e-mail claiming that you were a winner would you know how to handle this situation?

What if you were an unsuspecting consumer selling items in a classified ad or online at auction sites and a buyer wanted to pay for an item with a check. The only problem you had with the transaction was when you received the check. It was written for more than the amount of the item. The buyer wanted you to cash the check and wire them the difference. Did you do it?

Recently consumers throughout the country have been hired to become secret shoppers through online solicitations. When they accepted the position they were asked to evaluate the effectiveness of a money transfer service. They were mailed a check from the secret shopper service. Once they received the check they were asked to deposit it and wire cash in the amount of the check using a specific money transfer service. Then the consumers were told to evaluate their experience. Would you know this was a scam?

These are only three examples of the many counterfeit check scams that are used to scam people out of money. When the unsuspecting consumer deposit's the counterfeit check into their account and then wires cash to the person committing the scam, the consumers' personal income is stolen. Until the bank confirms that the check has cleared the consumers' account, Federal Law holds the consumer responsible for funds withdrawn against the check.

The key to make this type of scam a success is making the checks look legitimate. They are produced using high quality printers and scanners which give the checks a realistic look. Some also contain authentic-looking watermarks. The names and addresses of legitimate financial institutions and actual companies are printed on the checks adding to the documents believability. The fake checks come in many forms including cashier's checks, money orders, corporate checks, and personal checks. The account and routing numbers listed on the phony checks are most likely fake. Sometimes they are real, but the check is still counterfeit.

To avoid a counterfeit check scams, throw away any offer that asks you to pay for a prize or a gift. Resist the urge to play a foreign lottery. If you sell items in a classified ad or through online auctions do not accept a check for more than the selling price. Never wire money to a stranger and resist any pressure to take immediate action.

If you have any questions or difficulty resolving issues concerning counterfeit check scams, remember that you can always speak with a mediator in the Attorney General Darrell McGraw's Consumer Protection Division by calling 1-800-368-8808. For more information you can log on to www.wvago.gov.

McGraw is West Virginia's Attorney General.

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