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Our Office works very hard to educate consumers on how to spot a scam. So you can imagine how excited we were to hear from a consumer alerting us to a fake check scam that he received.

The fake check scam is common. You’ll see from the letter to the “award” recipient that he won a lottery drawing in August and was set to receive $550,000!  While the winner begins the process to claim their price, the company, in accordance with U.S. laws and income tax protocols, sends legal and administrative fees in the amount of $7,800.

letter                        check

(We redacted some information on the check as the scammers used the name of a real company).

So what’s the scam, you ask? It’s free money! Why can’t I take it?

Well first off, the money isn’t real. The bank where you deposit the check will ultimately alert you that the check is fake. That’s only half of the problem though. In most cases, the scammer sends a check and then reaches out claiming they made a slight error in calculation and you just need to pay back a $1,000 or $2,000. In other instances, the scammer will tell you that you didn’t meet the deadline for claiming your price and you need to send back the amount that you were paid, or else face possible charges for stealing. Since federal law requires that consumers have access to deposited funds within 1 to 5 days, it’s likely that your account will be credited the amount before the bank realizes the check is a fake.

The point is that you cash the check thinking you’re an extra $7,800 dollars richer, are asked to send money back to the scammers, discover the check is fake and now you’re out a few hundred or thousand dollars.

How to keep this scam from happening to you:

  • Remember, you can’t win money from a lottery you did not enter. If you didn’t purchase raffle tickets, or fill out an entry slip, or pick the winning numbers, then how were you selected?
  • Consider the chances that you would accidentally be overpaid from lottery winnings. Winnings are carefully calculated so the odds are really low.
  • Before you contact the claims agent, do a quick internet search. Check if the company and city actually exist. Look for slight variations in spelling. Look for consumer complaints about the scenario being a scam.
  • Ask your local bank teller, police department, Council on Aging, or consumer protection agency. Don’t be embarrassed to say that you’re not sure. Scammers are very good at their “job” and work hard to make things look and seem believable.

For more information on check cashing scams, check out our blog. We’ve broken down several variations of this scam. The United States Postal Service also put together a great bulletin with some facts about fake checks.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s vehicular and customized wheelchair Lemon Laws and Arbitration Programs, Data Breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the MA Do Not Call Registry.

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