Of all the scams I write about on this blog, the check cashing scam still gets the most mail since I posted about it in October, 06.
From the mail, it seems people still need the most help figuring out what to do after they've realized too late and deposited the check.
Today, someone representing themselves as a female Yahoo user wrote:
i think i am a victim of one of those website frauds. Unfortunately i didnt do my homework till late- this company Actexo Textile- sent me over$3,900.00 - they told me to keep 10% and western union the rest. However, my bank put a hold on the check (about 3days) however i was not able to get the funds in cash. i later investigated the company's name and ran across the words "scam" now i am left holding this money that i dont want to get in trouble for. PLEASE HELP ME- TELL ME WHAT I NEED TO DO NOW!!
So here is my advice to her, and anybody caught in this predicament:
First, take slow deep breaths, hold the air deep in your lungs, count to ten, let it out slowly. Keep this up until you feel calm enough to comprehend the rest of what you are going to read.
If you truly did not suspect you were cashing fraudulent checks, then you are safe from criminal prosecution.
If you have already spent the money, you will have to pay it back to the bank. If you have not, that’s good because you won’t owe the bank money when they realize the check is fake.
The next thing to happen is the scammers will contact you asking why haven’t you sent us the money? Keep copies of all communications, including their date and time stamps (easiest to set up a special mail folder).
At this point, you can ignore them, or tell them you know it’s fraud hang up. They will try to convince you they are not fraud, oh so very wrong you are, bla bla. Lies all lies.
Save and file these communications over phone, email, even your IM sessions. Cops can use those to track the bad guys, should you be so adventurous. Of course, you'd need to find a local cop with a clue to track these people from the calls and e-mails. Your best bet is the local branch of the Secret Service, in my book the most experienced with private sector financial crimes committed electronically.
Don't worry about these con artists coming after you. They're Internet thugs; spineless weenies who like to terrorize with their computers where they don't have to face their victims in real life.
As for the check ... If you stall them, the check will hang in limbo until they realize you’re not going to cash it. Or it may pass through and the bank will eventually tag it as fraud.
Either way, you are safe if you have not spent the check or sent the money to the bad guys. If you have, the bank will not give you a break, even though, as I've said before, there's a huge flaw in the banking verification system that the criminals take advantage of to make this happen. Sigh.
Even still, do report the check to your bank’s fraud department as soon as possible. It’s the nice thing to do.