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Catching the scammers behind fake checks

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Posted at 10:39 PM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-18 09:03:25-05

PHOENIX — Remember the movie, "Catch Me if You Can?" It focuses on a check scam that was big back then and is even bigger now. Nowadays, scammers are taking it one notch up, using unsuspecting victims to cash the checks for them while law enforcement races to keep up.

"You're gonna get caught, but it may take some time," said Special Agent in Charge, Frank Boudreaux, Jr. with the Secret Service Phoenix Field Office.

In most cases, scammers send fake checks and find a reason for the receiver to give a part of it back. The scammer wants it sent by Zelle, Venmo, or CashApp, knowing they'll get the cash before the receiver finds out the check is bad.

It happened to Ben.

"I wouldn't have authorized that transaction if I had known the check was counterfeit. I didn't know," said Ben.

He's out $1,300. That's just a fraction of the $500,000,000 the Federal Trade Commission says was lost this way last year.

"We need to be notified, you know, no more than 72 hours, ideally, within 24 hours of an incident like this to try to backtrace it," said Special Agent Boudreaux, Jr.

He says there is just a small window of time to keep your money from getting to the scammer. If it cannot be stopped, the bank will take the money from you.

Another challenge, cutting into the time it takes to know a check is fake, there are no universal ways to spot them. Different banks and companies have different security features.

Special Agent Boudreaux, Jr. says things like repeat check numbers or a check being paid to someone not on payroll are the most common red flags, but only once an audit is done. 

"They keep the number low enough that it'll probably cash in someone's account, you know it, they're not going to probably try to send someone a $250,000 check," said Special Agent Boudreaux, Jr. 

He adds that mobile deposits also make it harder to vet checks because they are relying on the account and routing numbers; which are often stolen from legit accounts. 

Any overpayment for something that you are trying to sell or a large check for work you haven't done, It's a scam!