Counterfeit check scams continue to be one of the most-reported scams online and tend to target U.S. law firms and attorneys via email. But many other individuals can fall victim to this con too.
Here’s what you need to know about this fairly new e-scam:
What is the Counterfeit Check Scam?
The counterfeit check scam is set up to collect money from people by providing instructions to wire funds to banks, often overseas banks.
Scam artists often go after law firms with this scheme, claiming that they are collecting a debt from third parties in the United States. The law firm is usually instructed to deposit a check and take out their retainer fees before wiring the remainder back to a designated bank. It’s at this point that the checks are determined to be counterfeit checks.
How the Counterfeit Check Scheme Works
A fraudster looking to run the counterfeit check scam will usually pretend to be an attorney in another state. He or she will then send a fairly professional-looking email to another, real attorney or to a law firm.
The email will usually contain a story that a client (of the legitimate attorney) needs help to collect a debt from a company that’s located in the victim law firm’s state. The fraudsters may even go as far as including information about the debtor company and other legitimate companies or entities.
The victim may receive a signed retainer agreement and a check that’s payable to the law firm. The lawyer is then instructed to deposit the check and simultaneously wire the funds, minus fees, to a specific bank account. After the wire request is put in, the victim receives a notice that the check is actually a counterfeit check. But by that point, the crooks have received the law firm’s bank account information and their cash – which is the scammer’s goal.
How to Avoid a Counterfeit Check Scheme
Whether you’re a law firm or an individual receiving requests like this via email, it’s a good idea to be ultra cautious about these matters.
Never give out your individual or company bank information unless you’re certain about the person or company with whom you’re doing business.
If you have any doubts at all, request a hold of funds received for a certain period of time until you have time to verify that the check is valid. Otherwise, you could become the victim of a financial crime — and you don’t want to become yet a statistic of fraud or identity theft.
Unfortunately, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has received numerous reports of counterfeit check schemes recently, especially those coming from U.S. law firms.
If you think you’ve been a victim of a counterfeit check scheme or similar scam, file a complaint as soon as possible at www.IC3.gov. Contact your local police department and alert them to the fraud as well. Be prepared to provide copies of emails received and other supporting documentation so that the IC3 and local authorities can investigate.