Another improvement in technology that has helped scammers fill their pockets with more money this year has been the ability to falsify checks:
At its root, the fake check scam works like this: A scammer gives you a fake check that you deposit into your account and convinces you to give them money. This usually works because the checks are seemingly “cleared” by the bank, and you see the money hit your account quickly.
The law is called Regulation CC, and it was passed in 1987. It says banks must let you use at least part of your deposit right away—even before they are able to tell wether it’s real or fake—in order to help fast-track the slow process of check-clearing when people would deposit their paychecks from work in the 1980s. Although technology has made depositing checks more efficient, it has also made fake checks more sophisticated.
“Advanced graphics and printing technologies allow scammers to easily create fraudulent and hard-to-detect counterfeit checks in a matter of minutes, adding a sense of legitimacy to their scams,” the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) said in a press release. “Fake checks can look so real that it’s very hard for consumers, or even bank employees, to detect.”
Once you think the funds are in your account, the scammers ask you to send them money in different ways, including cash, personal checks, gift cards, wire transfers, or unsafe person-to-person transactions like Zelle, Venmo, or PayPal Friends and Family—all ways that, once your check actually bounces, there’s nothing anyone can do to retrieve your money.
Never trust someone sending you a check and asking you to send back money—whether by wiring money or buying gift cards. Even if you see the money deposited in your account, it can still be taken away if it ends up being a fraudulent check.