It’s not new, but it continues to live on, and for unsuspecting folks, it can put them in a bad financial situation.
The check cashing scam continues to make its rounds, and unfortunately I have received plenty of calls in the last few weeks from people who received a check ranging from $1,000-$3,000 posing as a “mystery shopping assignment.” If the recipient deposits the check into their bank account, and wires money as instructed, their own hard earned money is long gone, because that check is not worth the paper its written on.
Now, I will say that most people can tell it’s a scam right off the bat, but there are many that fall victim and don’t do research until it’s too late.
As a consumer, there are always tried and true rules of thumb:
- If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
- Do your research BEFORE heading to the bank – as an example, we have a disclaimer on our home page that provides information to those who may have received a check in the mail.
- Always be suspicious of unsolicited emails/offers
- look for an email address that is hosted by a company (not AOL, gmail, etc) – companies typically have email addresses that correspond with their company.
- Do NOT click on any links in any email – it’s best to do a Google Search for the company in question and search that way – clicking on links may lead you down a bad path.
- Do not give any personal information in an email reply unless you know the person. Even then, proceed with caution.
As I’ve fielded phone calls, I realized that there is more that can be done by companies to help those who are about to fall victim to this scam.
- One person attempted to wire money at their local Walmart’s MoneyGram station. The employee asked a simple question – do you know this person you’re wiring money to? – and, when the person replied they did not, the employee told them it was likely a scam and refused to process the wire transfer.
- I received a call from a check cashing facility. The employee wanted to verify a check, which was of course part of the scam. She said that she had heard about the scam and she was taking an extra precaution before cashing it. The person was not allowed to cash the check, and was informed it was likely not real.
- Another individual attempted to deposit the check in the bank. The banker noticed the high amount of the check and looked into it, only to learn that the check was not real.
In these three instances, employees took an extra step to try to save someone from becoming the next victim.
Since this is a well known scam, it would be advantageous to educate staff across banks, credit unions, check cashing facilities, and even Walmart customer service staff who deal with MoneyGram. Education and employing simple steps in the customer service process can go a long way. Below are some simple suggestions:
- Banks & credit unions – look for money orders or cashier’s checks for large sums of money, and be extra cautious about them. Ask the customer questions about the sender of the check. While some may feel that this is intrusive, the ones that are about to fall victim will certainly thank you! If your staff explains the reason for asking, customers should be more understanding about the intent.
- MoneyGram/Western Union/Walmart – I include Walmart because the majority of letters I’ve seen instruct people to go to their nearest Walmart to wire funds. I have reached out to Walmart Corporate, and have not yet received a response. There are a couple of things to look for and ask here:
- Often times, though not always, the scam instructs people to wire money to the same person twice. This should be a red flag that something may not be quite right.
- Include a question that asks the customer if they know the person they are sending funds to. Again, customers may feel this is intrusive, but it could save a person or two from sending their money away to scammers.
Unfortunately, these scammers are good at what they do, and strive to be as realistic as possible. We can all work together to educate the public while employing simple questions into customer interactions to potentially save people from becoming victims.