What Are Fake Checks? What Happens If You Deposit A Fake Check?

What Are Fake Checks? What Happens If You Deposit A Fake Check?

Business proprietors know how fake checks can lead to loss of money and reputation. However many merchants still do not know what will happen if they deposit a fake check by mistake. Even though checks still constitute 21% (2021 data) of non-cash transactions, some individuals exploit them to attempt to scam businesses. Merchants are then left grappling with the resulting losses. Checks persist as the payment method most prone to fraud or scam, with 63% of respondents indicating their organizations encountered fraudulent activities involving checks.

So what happens if you accidentally deposit a fake check? The answer to this question might not be what businesses want to hear – And that tough answer is that you lose your money (in most cases). Additionally, the bank might hold you personally responsible for any losses they incur if the check turns out to be fraudulent. There’s also a possibility of an investigation being initiated if the check is confirmed as counterfeit.

Accepting a fake check leads to consequences that go beyond the immediate financial setback for the individual or business. The only way to prevent this fraud from happening to you is to know the basic details about how fake checks work. In this article, we will guide you through understanding the mechanics of fake check scams, how to identify them, and methods to protect yourself from becoming a victim.

What Are Fake Checks Scam?

What Are Fake Checks Scam?

Fake check fraud involves scammers sending counterfeit checks to people, often as part of a larger fraudulent scheme. These scams typically target individuals selling items online or those seeking job opportunities. The scammers, posing as buyers or employers, aim to create trust and a sense of urgency.

The working of every fake check fraud’s working is almost the same. The victim receives instructions to deposit the check sent by the scammers and then wire back a portion of the funds for reasons like fees, expenses, overpayment, or as an advance for securing a job. The catch is that these checks are fake. Although they may seem to even clear initially to an extent that the balance might show in your account – banks, however, eventually discover their counterfeit nature later.

Tragically, by the time the victim realizes the checks are fake, they may have already wired money back to the scammer or used it for personal purchases. As the fraud unravels, victims find themselves owing money to their banks and may even get involved in criminal investigations related to money laundering. These scams exploit the delay in banks’ checking process, leaving victims in financial distress and vulnerable to identity theft or other types of fraud. It’s crucial to stay cautious and vigilant to protect yourself from these increasingly sophisticated scams.

Common Types Of Fake Check Scams In 2024

Common Types Of Fake Check Scams In 2024

1.    Secret Shopper Scam

While mystery shopping is a legitimate research job that involves visiting physical or online stores, there’s a scam out there targeting unsuspecting individuals. If you’re approached for this work or offered upfront payment by Email, WhatsApp, or Telegram stating that they’ve found your CV online, it might be a scam.

Here’s how it typically plays out:

The scammer offers you the “ideal” job prospect and sends you a check, instructing you to deposit it and then wire back money for so-called “taxes,” “fees,” or other reasons. They might even ask you to spend a portion on a secret shopping assignment and return the rest. It’s a classic move by scammers.

This scam can lead to you sending money to the fraudster, only to discover later that the check they sent you was fake.

To Avoid Getting Scammed, Remember this:

When considering a secret shopper job, make sure to verify the legitimacy of your potential employer by checking with the company directly. Additionally, conduct an online search for the said company, including terms like “fraud,” to confirm their authenticity. If you receive a letter claiming to be from them, disregard it, as it’s likely a fraudulent attempt. Stay vigilant and protect yourself from potential scams by following these precautions.

2.    Lottery Scam

You’re notified that you’re entitled to a significant sum of money because you’ve supposedly won a lottery or inherited from someone’s estate. However, there’s a catch – you’re informed that you must pay a tax or fee before receiving your winnings. To sweeten the deal, you’re provided with a cashier’s check to cover these expenses. All you need to do to claim your prize is deposit the check and wire the money back to the sender to cover the alleged taxes and fees.

Here’s how the scam unfolds:

You receive a text, letter, or email proclaiming that you’ve won a lottery, perhaps from popular ones like Powerball or Mega Millions. The communication instructs you to call a provided phone number to confirm your winnings.

Upon calling, you’re informed that there are processing fees, taxes, or other expenses that must be settled before your winnings can be released. To make things seemingly easy, they send you a check to cover these costs – your task is simply to deposit it and transfer the money to a third party. However, the reality is that there’s no actual prize, and the check turns out to be fake. Be cautious and skeptical to avoid falling victim to such deceptive schemes.

To Avoid Getting Scammed, Remember this:

Genuine lottery organizations will never demand payment from you to claim a prize. If someone insists on upfront payment to “unlock” your winnings, it’s always a scam.

Should you receive a message of this nature, avoid calling the provided number, as it will connect you with a scammer looking to deceive you. Instead, conduct an internet search for the sweepstakes or directly contact the legitimate company to confirm the authenticity of the prize. Stay vigilant to protect yourself from falling prey to fraudulent schemes.

3.    Overpayment Check Scam

These scams focus on individuals selling cars or valuable items through classified ads or online auction sites. In this scheme, the scammer proposes to pay for the item using a check but invents a reason to write the check for an amount exceeding the purchase price. Subsequently, the scammer urges the seller to wire back the surplus after depositing the check.

Here’s how the scam unfolds:

Scammers contact you regarding an item you’ve listed online, like on platforms such as Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist, expressing interest in purchasing it and offering to pay with a check. You receive a seemingly genuine check, but it’s made out for more than the agreed sale price. The scammer then requests that you send the excess amount via a cash transfer app.

After depositing the check, the funds appear in your account, prompting you to ship out the item. However, the check later bounces, and your bank reverses the credited amount. As a result, you not only lose the item but also the money you sent to the scammer.

To Avoid Getting Scammed, Remember this:

Avoid accepting checks when selling items online. Platforms like Craigslist explicitly caution against cashier’s checks, certified checks, or money orders as payment methods for items.

If someone proposes sending you a check for payment, terminate the transaction immediately and report the user. In the event of receiving a personal check exceeding the expected amount, refrain from depositing it. Instead, request the buyer to issue a new check for the correct amount. Stay vigilant to ensure a secure online selling experience.

4.    Employment Scam

You get hired by a foreign or out-of-state company to sell or ship products. They instruct you to cover costs for certifications or supplies and promise to reimburse you. However, here’s how the scam plays out:

Scammers either post job openings or send you a job offer via email. After a brief interview, they inform you that you need to purchase supplies, like a laptop, or pay for a training course, assuring you they’ll foot the bill.

Here’s how the scam unfolds:

To facilitate this, the scammer sends you a check that you’re supposed to cash and then forwards the money to a supposed “distributor” or “training company.” Unfortunately, once you’ve sent the funds, the check bounces, your so-called “employer” disappears, and you’re left responsible for repaying the bank.

To Avoid Getting Scammed, Remember this:

Just because a job post or message looks promising doesn’t guarantee the job’s legitimacy (or the recruiter’s true identity). It’s essential to research both the recruiter and the job itself thoroughly. Take the time to investigate and see if you can find any information about the recruiter or hiring manager to verify their authenticity as a real person. Stay informed and make wise decisions to ensure a secure job search.

What If You Deposit A Fake Check?

If you deposit a fake check, it might take weeks for the bank to realize it’s not real. According to the EFFA act, banks are required to make deposited funds quickly available. Typically, funds from a check deposit are accessible for withdrawal the next business day.

Even if your check seems to clear within a day or two, it doesn’t guarantee its legitimacy. The real problem might not surface until the other bank returns it unpaid. Unfortunately, this process can take weeks, and during this time, you might spend the money thinking it’s available in your account. Once the check comes back unpaid, it bounces, making it impossible to cash out, even if you were unaware it was fake. You’ll likely be on the hook for repaying the bank the amount of the fake check.

Steps To Take If You Have Find Yourself As The Victim Of The Fake Check Scam

If you suspect that you’ve been a victim of check fraud it’s important to take action to protect yourself minimize any legal issues and assist law enforcement in catching those responsible. The first thing you should do is promptly provide information to your bank and law enforcement agencies.

This information will include details such, as the check number, where and when the check was used, the amount written on it, and the name of the person who received the check. It is crucial to prevent fraud activities by processing your case effectively and prosecuting those involved. By being proactive and sharing all details you contribute to an efficient response, against incidents of check fraud. Additionally here are some pieces of information that could be helpful to gather:

  • Records containing all communication related to the transaction, including emails.
  • pictures of the check and, if necessary, the supporting paperwork.
  • If accessible, in-store surveillance video showing the individual giving you the check (in case of a personal handout by the scammer).

Once you’ve reported the incident to the police it’s important to reach out to consumer protection authorities such as the FTC and the Attorney General in your state. If the scam took place online make sure to contact the ICCC. These organizations will provide you with guidance and resources to support you throughout this process.

Remember to keep a record of all your interactions with banks and law enforcement. Take note of who you spoke with and what actions they are taking on your behalf. It’s crucial to maintain documentation in case any claims arise against you due to the use of your checks.

Tips To Identify And Catching The Fake Check Scam

Ensuring that checks are legitimate is a crucial step in protecting yourself. Identifying a fake check might not always be straightforward, but there are numerous clues you can watch out for. Whether it’s a personal check or a cashier’s check, invest time in examining it for signs of fraud.

1.    Why did You Receive the Check?

If you find yourself with an unexpected check in the mail, take a moment to understand why. Identify the source of the funds and their motivation for sending you money.

Conduct research on the person or company involved to assess the legitimacy of the payment. Review any emails or other communication you’ve had with them.

2.    Spotting the Signs of a Fake Check

  • Irregular Perforations:

Examine the edges of the check for any irregularities. Legitimate checks typically have perforations and at least one rough edge.

Be cautious if the check lacks perforations and rough edges, as it could be a fake. Scammers are increasingly using printers with MICR capability to create their own checks, sometimes incorporating micro-perforations that may be challenging to detect. Stay vigilant to protect yourself from fraudulent activities.

  • Logo Presence:

A genuine check typically displays the bank’s logo where the account is held. If there’s no logo, chances are it’s not a real check. If a logo is present but appears faint or faded, it may indicate that it’s been copied from another source.

  • Verify the Bank Address:

Even if the logo seems genuine, cross-verify the address on the check by checking the named bank’s website or calling its customer service. If the address is missing or includes a PO Box, exercise caution and avoid cashing the check.

  • Check the Check Number:

Legitimate checks have a unique number found in two places: the upper-right corner and the MICR line at the bottom. If these numbers don’t match, it’s likely a fake check.

Be cautious of low numbers, such as 50 to 200 on a personal check or 500 to 1,000 on a business check. Such numbers indicate a new account, and approximately 90 percent of fake checks are written from new accounts. Stay vigilant to protect yourself from potential fraud.

3.    Exercise Caution With Company Checks Too

Many check scams camouflage their fraudulent activities by using legitimate businesses as a front. If you recognize a genuine company associated with a received check and the check appears legitimate, reach out to the company directly.

Avoid using any information provided with the check, as these details may be fabricated by the scammer. Verify the authenticity of the check independently by seeking information about the company from reliable sources. Stay vigilant to ensure you don’t fall victim to potential scams.

4.    Avoid Sending Money to Unknown Contact

It’s crucial never to send money to someone you don’t know, whether through a check or wire transfer. Recovering such funds can be challenging, and once the transaction is completed, consumer protection agencies may have limited ability to assist you. If someone persists in requesting money, here’s what you should do:

  • Don’t Submit the Check:

Never deposit a check or money order from a stranger who asks you to wire the money back to them. The check will bounce, and you’ll be obligated to repay the bank as the account holder.

  • End the Communications Immediately:

Cease all communication with the “scammer” immediately. Attempt to reverse any transactions you’ve already initiated.

  • Be on the Safe Side:

Inform the FTC, ICCC, and your bank about the attempted fraud. If you’ve incurred losses, inquire with your bank about potential steps to recover the money.

5.    Wait for the Check to Clear

Hold off on spending any money until the check has officially cleared to avoid potential issues. Even if the funds are in your account, your bank can still reverse the transaction if the check bounces. To steer clear of late fees, overdrawn charges, and other repercussions, it’s safest to wait until the check has officially cleared.

Typically, a check clears within 1–3 business days, although it may take longer in certain situations. If you have enough funds to cover potential debits in case the check is fraudulent, consider waiting 2-3 days before using it. If uncertain, waiting for 30 days is a wise approach—checks from fake or empty accounts often bounce within this timeframe. If you urgently need the money, you can contact your bank to confirm the check’s clearance.

Clearly explain to the bank employee that you want to know if the check has been verified to avoid any misunderstandings about when you can spend the received money, which doesn’t necessarily indicate the check’s verification. Stay cautious to ensure a secure financial transaction.

6.    Establish a Check Acceptance Policy for Your Business

If you’re managing a business, it’s crucial to create a robust policy for accepting checks. Relying solely on a physical examination of the check may not provide sufficient protection against fraud. Consider implementing the following guidelines for your check acceptance policy:

  • Only accept checks from in-state or local banks to minimize risks.
  • Do not write or accept checks for amounts exceeding the purchase amount.
  • Refrain from accepting unnumbered, non-personalized, or starter checks.
  • Ensure the customer’s full address and name are present on the check.
  • Verify that the date on the check is accurate.
  • Checks should be signed in your presence, and the signature should be cross-verified with a photo identification (such as a military or state ID, and driver’s license).
  • Consider recording the person’s driver’s license number for additional documentation.

By using these measures in your policy, you enhance the security of your business transactions and reduce the risk of falling victim to check-related fraud.


The prevalence of fake check scams poses a significant threat to individuals and businesses alike. The consequences of unknowingly depositing a counterfeit check extend beyond immediate financial losses, potentially leading to criminal investigations and long-term repercussions. Awareness and vigilance are paramount in safeguarding against these scams.

By understanding the mechanics of fake check fraud, recognizing common types of scams, and implementing thorough verification processes, individuals can protect themselves and their businesses. Additionally, prompt reporting to authorities and financial institutions is crucial for mitigating the impact of such scams and contributing to the pursuit of justice. Stay informed, stay cautious, and stay secure in the face of evolving fraudulent tactics.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What happens if you receive a fake check?

In most cases, if your bank initially credits your account for a fake check, they can later reverse the funds once the check is determined to be fraudulent. Refer to your deposit account agreement for your bank’s policies on handling fraudulent checks. Fake checks are often associated with scams involving overpayments or fake money orders.

Q: Can an official check be counterfeit?

Yes, with advancements in printing technology, scammers can easily forge cashier’s checks, making it challenging even for bank employees to detect a fake. It might take weeks before a counterfeit cashier’s check is identified.

Q: Can someone steal your bank info from a check?

Unfortunately, if scammers have access to your bank account and routing numbers from your check, they could misuse this information. They might set up unauthorized bill payments or transfer money from your account. Protecting these details is crucial since your account and routing numbers are printed at the bottom of your checks.

Q: How do I identify a fake check?

While there are numerous ways to create fake checks, there are equally many warning signs of counterfeit checks. Keep an eye out for irregular perforations, missing check numbers, incorrect routing codes, strange MICR lines, notations in the memo area, and any stains or discolorations on the check.

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