The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

November 23, 2013

Fake checks -- worthless paper but looks real

A young Clinton woman recently lost more than $1,800 in a fake check scam. The woman wanted to work, and saw a job posted on an Internet site.

The firm posting the job offer portrayed themselves as a research service located in St. Louis. The firm hired our Clinton applicant as an “undercover customer service evaluator,” and promised her $350 for each store she rated. Another term for this is “mystery shopper.” The firm instructed her to deposit at her bank a check they sent to her, withdraw the deposit in cash, and take it to a Western Union agent.

She received further instructions to wire transfer the money at the Western Union agent to a representative of the research company in Mexico.

The woman did as instructed. When the check arrived, she deposited it and withdrew the cash. She went to a Western Union agent and wire transferred almost $1,500 as instructed. She filled out the “rating/evaluation” form provided by the research service, and sent it on. And one week later, her bank notified her the check she deposited came back as counterfeit. She is liable for the loss, and must re-pay the bank.

There are several lessons to draw from this crime:

n Internet mystery shopper job offers are almost always scams — Wire transfer services such as Western Union and Moneygram are widely used by crooks to steal money in frauds. Remember what I’ve written before — don’t touch the wire.

n If you deposit a check, you are not 100 percent positive about, wait until it clears the bank before withdrawing funds against that check — Fake checks show up in a wide variety of scams. I’ve told people I am working on wallpapering one wall of my office with fake or counterfeit checks folks turn in.

I am making good progress on that project. It is extremely easy to counterfeit a check. You need a color printer, a check writing software program (they are inexpensive) and check stock, which is available at office supply outlets. Anyone can buy blank check stock. It is not a controlled commodity.

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