Consumer Alert: You're on the hook for endorsing a scam check

Posted at: 02/07/2013 1:19 PM
By: Berkeley Brean

Just about every week we get a call from a viewer saying they received mail saying they've won money. They ask us if we think it's a fraud. The answer -- almost 100% of the time -- is yes.

Those checks are tempting. So the advice from experts may be hard to accept. They say if a check for a large amount of money arrives in the mail from someone you don't know, rip it up. If you cash it, it could end up costing you big time.

"He sent me a check for $50,000," Taylor Campbell, a fraud victim, said. Campbell is talking about the person she met online who claimed he was stranded in Africa. "He wanted me to send him a portion and send it to him as soon as possible so he could get home to the states and take care of his dad."
But her online friend left out a crucial piece of information.
"It was a fraudulent check."
"They mail you a counterfeit check, you deposit the check, you wire the funds and you're out the money," postal inspector Renee Focht, said.
Banking regulations require banks to release funds before a check clears, but once the bank realizes the check is a fake, the victim is responsible.
"When you receive a check and sign the back of it, you're endorsing the check; you're saying that check is good." Focht said.
Here's some advice:
"Don't be so trusting of who you meet online. That's the number one thing," Campbell said.
:If you receive a check from an unknown source, don't deposit the check, don't wire the funds, don't become a victim," Focht said.

And keep this in mind: there's no legitimate reason for someone to give you a check and then ask you to wire the money somewhere else. It just doesn't make sense.