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"Congratulations, you're hired!"

Tim said a week after receiving my online job application.

This was music to my ears after three months without a decent job offer. The best part was that I’d be paid to drive my car around town. All I had to do was let his company wrap my car with advertisements to start earning money right away. No passengers or deliveries required.

I’d read about companies using everyday drivers to act as mobile billboards, so I thought this would be a great way to supplement my income even after I secured a full-time job. But, right then, I needed money quick to pay bills. I was starting to receive past due notices and had already borrowed money from family.

“We are happy to have you on board,” Tim continued. “I’ll go ahead and send you your first check in the mail. It should arrive in the next few days. Just deposit and take out $1,000 cash to pay the local specialist for the wrap installation.”

I thought that it was kind of strange that I’d have to pay for the wrap installation out of my check but was so excited to know that I’d have a check for $3,500 in the next few days – I didn’t care. That still left me with $2,500.

A few days later, I was at home visiting with my friend Abby when the check arrived. I hadn’t mentioned my new job to anyone yet, but now that I had the check, I felt more confident about what I was doing. I told her about my conversation with Tim and how relieved I was to be able to pay my bills.

After a few moments of running her fingers over the check like a detective, she raised an eyebrow as she held the check in her hand, “Seriously?”

“Yes.”

“Natalie, look at this check.” I looked at it. It was printed on copy paper. It had my new employer’s name at the top. It even had the name of a national bank in the lower left corner.  I didn’t see what the big deal was. Abby pointed to the upper left corner. “There’s no address here. Just the company’s name.”

“So.” I squeaked.

“Don’t you think that’s kind of weird?” She reached for the United States Postal Service priority mail envelope that held the check a few moments earlier. I grabbed it before she had a chance to see what I saw. The return address was from a different company. Okay, I had to admit. That. Was. Odd.

When I looked up, Abby had already pulled out her phone and had the website of my new employer on her screen. My mouth went dry. According to the site, my new employer specialized in heating ventilation and air conditioning components not wrapping cars. I was sure that there had to be two companies with the same name. I had Abby search again. And again. And again.

I fell into my chair. This couldn’t be right. There must be some mistake.

“Natalie? Hello, Natalie.” Abby waved her hands in front of my face. “Snap out of it. Do you have this guy’s number?”

I pulled out my phone and called Tim.

“This is our normal procedure,” Tim repeated. He avoided my questions about the different company names. I pressed him about his company’s location. He just kept urging me to deposit the check.

I didn’t know what to believe. Tim finally said that he only wanted to deal with serious people and his installation specialist was waiting on the money. I hung up the phone. Abby touched my shoulder and assured me that I’d avoided a huge financial mess.

***************

Luckily, Natalie’s friend Abby helped her dodge a version of the fake check scam. Tim was counting on Natalie to deposit a $3,500 check with the hopes of having his buddy, the “local specialist,” collect $1,000 cash. Scammers know that banks and credit unions must make funds available to you within two (2) business days of deposit.

Available funds is not the same as having a check that has cleared.

Fake checks can take weeks to be discovered. In the meantime, scammers like Tim and his partner in crime, leave Natalie liable for the $1,000 and any additional money withdrawn against the check.

Never deposit a check you receive from someone who wants you to give them cash back. Some scammers may try to convince their victims to wire the money instead of requesting cash.

If someone asks you to deposit a cashier’s check, money order or personal check in order to receive a portion of those funds in return, this might be a version of a fake check scam. Here’s what you should do instead:

If you have already deposited a check or money order in your account, contact an F&A Federal Credit Union member representative as soon as possible to discuss steps to remedy the situation.

For additional information, please visit out our Fraud & Identity Theft Center.

This story is our first in a series regarding ways to guard against being the victim of scams and fraud. We hope you find the reading interesting and useful. 

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