New take on old check fraud scheme aimed at small businesses

Contributed Photo: A Safford woman got scammed out of nearly $3,000 through a new take on an old check fraud scam.

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD –  A Safford woman was taken for nearly $3,000 recently after she fell victim to an old check fraud scheme with a new bend.

The scheme is the same in the end, a person sends a check to the recipient for goods or services and before the check clears somehow convinces the recipient to pay them back the entire amount or at least a portion.

According to a Safford Police report, a local catering business fell victim to the scam after being contracted to cater a wedding in California. The job was initially set up through the caterer’s Instagram account.

The victim reported receiving two checks for $1,200 and $1,435 to perform the service. The victim deposited the checks into her bank but then was notified by the “customer” in California that she had found a family friend to do the catering and wanted her money back.

The victim then used her debit card at Western Union to send the “customer” back her money, which she thought was safely deposited in her bank account. However, she was later contacted by the bank, which informed her that the checks were fraudulent and she would not credited for the amount deposited and would not be allowed a refund. The victim then attempted to stop payment through Western Union, but the money had already been paid.

Police advise online shoppers and sellers to be wary of such Internet scams and never send money back to someone until funds have cleared.

Ten things you can do to avoid fraud

1. Spot imposters. Scammers often pretend to be someone you trust, like a government officiala family membera charity, or a company you do business with. Don’t send money or give out personal information in response to an unexpected request — whether it comes as a text, a phone call, or an email.  

2. Do online searches. Type a company or product name into your favorite search engine with words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” Or search for a phrase that describes your situation, like “IRS call.” You can even search for phone numbers to see if other people have reported them as scams.

3. Don’t believe your caller ID. Technology makes it easy for scammers to fake caller ID information, so the name and number you see aren’t always real. If someone calls asking for money or personal information, hang up. If you think the caller might be telling the truth, call back to a number you know is genuine.

4. Don’t pay upfront for a promise. Someone might ask you to pay in advance for things like debt relief, credit and loanoffers, mortgage assistance, or a job. They might even say you’ve won a prize, but first you have to pay taxes or fees. If you do, they will probably take the money and disappear. 

5. Consider how you pay. Credit cards have significant fraud protection built in, but some payment methods don’t. Wiring money through services like Western Union or MoneyGram is risky because it’s nearly impossible to get your money back. That’s also true for reloadable cards like MoneyPak, Reloadit or Vanilla. Government offices and honest companies won’t require you to use these payment methods.

6. Talk to someone. Before you give up your money or personal information, talk to someone you trust. Con artists want you to make decisions in a hurry. They might even threaten you. Slow down, check out the story, do an online search, consult an expert — or just tell a friend.

7. Hang up on robocalls. If you answer the phone and hear a recorded sales pitch, hang up and report it to the FTC. These calls are illegal, and often the products are bogus. Don’t press 1 to speak to a person or to be taken off the list. That could lead to more calls.

8. Be skeptical about free trial offers. Some companies use free trials to sign you up for products and bill you every month until you cancel. Before you agree to a free trial, research the company and read the cancellation policy. And always review your monthly statements for charges you don’t recognize.

9. Don’t deposit a check and wire money back. By law, banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. If a check you deposit turns out to be a fake, you’re responsible for repaying the bank.

10. Sign up for free scam alerts from the FTC at the latest tips and advice about scams sent right to your inbox.

If you spot a scam, report it at Your reports help the FTC and other law enforcement investigate scams and bring crooks to justice.

Source: Federal Trade Commission