Scammers are nothing if not creative. We all know about the fake check scam, but scammers are including in-person bank transactions to make their fraud seem more legitimate. So far, I have not seen reports of this associated with the mystery shopper scam; however, it is just a variation on the typical check scam, so I won’t be surprised to see it happen. Here’s how this new twist on an old scam works:
The victim receives a check and is told to deposit it into their personal account. Then, they are to withdraw the value of the check in cash.
The next step is the twist: Instead of wiring the money to someone, the victim takes the cash to another bank and deposits the cash in the scammer’s account. Most banks make blank deposit slips available in the lobby or at the teller window, so all the victim needs is the name of the bank and the scammer’s account number.
The victim lets the scammer know that the deposit has been completed, and the scammer withdraws the funds from an ATM. (There is no hold on the funds, because the deposit was made in cash.)
It may be days or weeks later that the victim realizes they were scammed, as it can take that long for the check they deposited to be identified as fraudulent.
Because the victim is depositing the cash in a bank account (not wiring money off to who-knows-where) the scam seems more credible and legitimate.
Fraud.org tells the story of a California woman who became the victim of an employment-related check scam using this method. She says she was hired for a work-at-home job and was sent a check for $3,950. She was told to deposit the check into her account, then withdraw the ccash and deposit it into another account to cover some office-related costs.
The woman says that, “The following day my ‘employer’ FedEx’ed another check overnight worth $4,950 for materials that weren’t covered with the first check, and asked for me to do the same thing again into a different account.”
The scammer then sent a third check to buy office supplies. In what turned out to be a lucky break, the check was stolen from her mailbox before she could cash it. When she informed the bank of the stolen check, they let her know about the scam.
Now, you are wondering a few things about this, right? How did this guy get away with doing this? The bank has his name and all of his information from when he opened the bank accounts, don’t they? Couldn’t they catch him when he went to the bank to get the money? Well, Fraud.org did not get into specifics on this, but my guess is that he used identities stolen from others to open those accounts.
As an honest person, you are probably not aware of how easy it is for these people to get personal information (e.g., names, dates of birth, Social Security Numbers, etc.), create fake IDs, and cash in with these criminal enterprises. (I have learned a lot over the last few years, writing about security for a website about identity theft. It is not pretty.) Personal information can be purchased for less than $1, and fake IDs are easy to create with high-tech scanners and printers.
As for picking him up when he went to get the money, there are ATMs all over the place, open 24/7. They can’t do stake outs on every ATM for what is, to law enforcement, small potatoes. Besides, he was getting the money before anyone even knew that a crime had been committed.
A scammer can generate many thousands of dollars over the course of several days (He probably had multiple victims.), then that identity disappears and he starts over with a new one.
If someone sends you a check and wants you to send some of the money back to them via wire or gift card, or deposit cash in an account not controlled by you, just say no. If you insist on doing it, tell them you cannot do anything with the cash until you are certain that the check is good. Remember that just because the bank gave you money for the check does not mean it is valid. They are required by law to release funds long before they know if the check is legitimate.
When you tell the person who sent you the check that you have to wait two to four weeks before you can do what they have asked, they are likely to try to pressure you and threaten to take away the great-paying job they have given you. Let them. Scammers always tell you that you must do what they want you to do immediately. That is so they get their money before you figure out what is going on. Don’t fall for it.