BBB warns about counterfeit check scam

Watch for warning signs when looking for ways to make extra money

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Aug. 28, 2012 — The economy is still limping toward recovery, but many consumers are still out of work and getting more desperate by the day. It breaks my heart to hear some of the stories of people doing what they can to make ends meet. It makes me downright angry to hear stories of scammers taking advantage of their desperation to make a couple of bucks.

One such scam I’ve been hearing a lot about lately is the counterfeit check scam. The scammers contact the victim with a business proposition. Usually, they claim they need someone to take deposits from clients and, after taking out a small salary, forward the money on to the business.

The victim soon discovers that the check was fraudulent and they are now on the hook for the full amount of the check, while the scammers get away with the money.

One local resident, Ambrosia Moore, told me how she ended up falling for this scam. She was looking for a job so she could support her family when she saw an advertisement looking for a personal assistant.

When she responded to the ad, the scammer told her he was a businessman in California who was looking to expand his business to the Killeen area. Looking back, Moore said she noticed several warning signs — misspellings and poor grammar in his emails, an artificial sense of urgency, and a sob story to explain why he couldn’t cash the checks himself.

He sent her a check and asked her to deposit the money in her account, take out $400 as her compensation and forward the rest to an orphanage in the Philippines. Feeling like it was a worthy cause, she did as she was told.

By the time the second check arrived for her to deposit, Moore was suspicious and had caught on to the scam. Moore said the bank had already removed the funds from the previous transaction. But, the check was written on a closed account. Suddenly, she owed more than $1500 to the bank.

Once Moore refused to deposit the second check the “businessman” started harassing Moore with threatening telephone calls. After some digging, Moore found that the FedEx account being used to send the checks traced back to another company, not the one she had been working with. The account had been hijacked. Before getting caught, the man who initiated the deal disappeared.

Moore’s experience could be considered a walk in the park compared to other stories I have heard. One woman in the Dallas area faced money laundering charges after falling for a similar scam. Others have lost a lot more money before they discovered the fraud.

BBB has also received reports of similar scams involving mystery shopping, lotteries or sweepstakes and overpayment. They all involve the scammer sending a check or promising to send a check, but asking for some of the money back to cover anything from taxes and fees to merchandise.

To protect yourself from check scams, BBB offers the following advice:

  • Never wire money. Any job listings or offers that require you to wire money, especially to recipients outside the country, is suspicious. Walk away.
  • Protect your personal information. Don't give out your bank account, credit card or Social Security numbers to any unsolicited callers, even if they claim that the information is needed to direct deposit your "paychecks" or “winnings.” Before providing any information to a potential employer, do your research and verify the job is legitimate.
  • Don’t trust P.O. boxes. Be suspicious of any employer or company that doesn't have a bricks-and-mortar street address (not a P.O. Box or website only) and telephone number. Call the telephone number listed and ask to speak to someone in the human resources office. While there are hundreds of legitimate online (or "dotcom") businesses, most job scams work exclusively through email and websites.
  • Never pay upfront. There is no need to pay for “job leads” or “employment listings.” Legitimate employers will advertise their open positions in easily accessible, free ways.
  • Start with trust. Visit to check out any potential employer, and contact those companies using information you verified on your own. Never rely only on contact information provided through unsolicited emails or phone calls. Know where to turn. Report suspicious job offers to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the attorney general's office.