Product Reviews

Welcome to Consumer Reports.

We’re so glad to have you as a member. You now have access to benefits that can help you choose right, be safe and stay informed.

Don’t be duped by fake check scams

Consumer Reports News: January 30, 2008 09:08 AM

A colleague brought us a letter he received in the mail at home that included a very real-looking check for $3,860.95. The letter informed him that he’d won $288,000 in a lottery, and that the amount of the check was deducted from his winnings, partially to pay the taxes that would be due on the total amount. The letter, which bore no return address but was posted in Canada, went on to instruct the “winner” to call for specific instructions on how to claim the full prize.

We didn’t call the number but we’ve seen this sort of thing before, so we knew it was a scam. For one thing, our friend never entered any lottery or sweepstakes, which presumably one would have to do in order to win. But this type of rip-off takes other guises—job offers or mystery shopper assignments, potential love interests in other countries, overpayment for items being sold at auction, even free pedigree puppies. What they all have in common is that they ask you to send money or personal information back to the scam artist.

The ones that come with checks attached might be the most convincing. You’re told to deposit the check and immediately send part of the proceeds to a third party for a reason that sounds legitimate. Of course, by the time you find out that the check was bogus, you’re out the money you sent—and probably bounced check or overdraft fees that your bank will hit you with.

“Most Americans don’t realize they are financially liable when they fall for these scams,” says Susan Grant, vice president of the National Consumers League. “There is no legitimate reason anyone would mail you a check or money order and then ask you to wire money in return. People need to know that checks can take months to clear, even if the money initially looks like it’s in your account."

The National Consumer League says that victims lose an average of $3,000 to $4,000 in fake-check scams. The league, along with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and other partners, recently launched a Web site,, to help spread the word about these scams.

Bottom line: As realistic and enticing as that check looks, don’t cash it. File a report with the Federal Trade Commission or the postal authorities.

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters! Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Money News


Cars Build & Buy Car Buying Service
Save thousands off MSRP with upfront dealer pricing information and a transparent car buying experience.

See your savings


Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more