Chase: By Cashing This $9.25 Check You Agree To Give Us $59.99

Reader Aaron writes in to complain about a “scam” that he can’t believe is legal. Many of you know about this little marketing tactic, and we’ve written about it before, but some of you probably do not.

Here’s how it works. Someone sends you a check. You think, “Hot Damn, I have a check.” You cash the check. You do not notice that the check says, “by cashing this check you agree to enroll in some sort of program that costs hundreds of dollars a year.”

You lose hundreds of dollars a year.

It’s a fairly common, but misleading bit of marketing. We hate it. Here’s Aaron’s letter:

I don’t know if you guys have already reported on this but I couldn’t find anything searching the archives and this just infuriated me.

So I have a chase credit card I use as my backup card. I got a standard looking rebate check mail from them the other day. (The one where you rip off the sides and there is a check inside) Inside was a check for $9.25. I found this weird because I hadn’t had any transactions with them for some time. I went looking for the catch and had to find it in very very small print under the amount. Apparently, by cashing this check I was signing up for some program called Just for Me. After mining deep into the writing on the back I found out that by “signing up for Just For Me” I was agreeing to a 59.99 semiannual charge for account membership. Also on the back the largest writing says 2% Back on Your Credit Card Purchases … almost implying that this is the reason the check was cut. There’s lots of other junk in this offer as well but the thing that struck me was how authentic this check looked and how easy it would be for someone to cash this thinking it was a rebate check.

I’m canceling my account today, but I wanted to let you guys know about this scam. It baffles my mind that this is legal.

Anyway, enjoy!

Thanks,
Aaron

checkscam2.jpg

Comments

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  1. I get these all the time. Anything that says “Check Enclosed” on the front is obviously a scam…when was the last time you got a rebate check that announced it was a check to anyone handling it?

  2. aka_bigred says:

    I get these stupid checks all the time. They are a HUGE scam. What really scares me is the little part that says: Pay to the addressee OR **BEARER**

    If I understand it right, pay to bearer means anyone can cash it and get the $9.25 but then they will sign me up for their stupid scam? How can that be leagal? Granted I’ve never had the balls to have my girlfirend sign it to test, but I’m sure they track based on the check number & ID that are printed on it without regard to the name of signer.

  3. smitty1123 says:

    I cash these all the time. The trick is to read the fine print and cancel the “memberships” accordingly. Five minutes of my time is worth $10. Really, if you don’t read the fine print on them, I don’t feel very sorry for you.

  4. ahwannabe says:

    @smitty1123: I do the same thing. I think it would be illegal if they didn’t give you the option to cancel, but as long as they do offer it, might as well take advantage.

  5. Dead Wrestlers Society says:

    These go right in my shredder.

  6. ironchef says:

    @ahwannabe:

    Those idiots who cash those checks also give out their account numbers, personal address, oh yeah…your signature too!

    Sorry but it’s playing with fire.

  7. Skiffer says:

    I’ve always wondered what would happen if you hoarded 10-20 of these checks and cashed them all at once…

    Do we have any volunteers?

  8. SpenceMan01 says:

    Both the check in this article and check in the previous article that was linked to are for $9.25. Why the same price and why $9.25? I suppose it could be the same company, but why $9.25? Some sort of legal limit on things like this?

  9. thekizerman says:

    I’m not trying to advocate this type of “scam”, BUT, the part that says “by cashing this check you are purchasing whatever” isn’t really hidden, its actually quite visible even though it is in small print.

    AGAIN, not saying this is cool, just saying anyone that reads this blog should also be used to reading the fine print.

  10. B says:

    @SpenceMan01: I’m guessing that some study concluded that $9.25 is the lowest amount they can give that people will bother cashing the check.

  11. nweaver says:

    Can you do the same thing to the banks? Send them an unsolicited check with such an agreement on it?

  12. t-r0y says:

    Well, does this mean I can write a little note on my check to them say something like …

    By cashing this check you are agreeing to allow me to under pay my balance by 50%

    Think that would fly?

  13. econobiker says:

    Or how about the micro print that they use (or used to use) on the endorsement line? I think that was the reason for alot of early/mid ’90s phone slamming. Mr. Goober Consumer would get a check from MCI for $50.00 and then cash it not reading the micro print that his phone long distance would be changed to MCI.

    What I question is this:

    If a company can indicate that “by cashing this check you are puchasing a membership in X”

    then why can not we consumers micro-print such clause on OUR checks like “by cashing this check your business agrees to drop/rescind all mandatory arbitration clauses from any and all contracts with person bearing the check”?

    Now that would be coooool……………..

  14. christoj879 says:

    I have a little secret that’s netted me about $100 from Chase so far. If you get any check you’re not expecting and the ending amount isn’t zero (.25, .75, etc) shred it, it’s one of these scams.

    However, if the check is from Chase and it’s for $10.00 or $20.00 (no extra cents on the end) to sign up for their payment protector, go ahead and cash/deposit it. Those things cost about 1% of every $100 of your balance per month, but you can always cancel before they bill you. If there’s no balance there’s no bill, but I always forget to cancel before the end of the month and see the charge for a dollar or two, if that.

    There’s payment protector and some other fraud prevention program, I got a check for one of each for each Chase card I have, it was an easy extra $100 or so.

  15. mizj says:

    I’m getting so sick of Chase junk mail. Not only do I get these stupid “checks,” but I also keep getting those “To Our Neighbor” $100 vouchers every month or so. You know, the ones that offer you $100 to sign up for a checking account with Direct Deposit. But why would they send these things to me when I’ve already GOT that? Ooooh, annoying.

  16. BStu says:

    It is deceptive, but its not that hard to figure out. I mean, aren’t people even remotely curious about why they are getting checks? If I get a random check, I read it pretty closely. After the first one I got, I pretty much expected all future random checks to be the same and they’ve lived up to that promise. Never cash a check you weren’t expecting. Its that simple.

    The issue here, though, is different in that the recipient felt that the format and look were too close to similar and legit checks that he gets from his Chase card. If that’s the case, then Chase needs to do more to differentiate because they are creating a much more questionable deception. Consider those newspaper “ads” that pretend they are articles. Now, they have to do more to differentiate themselves than the quiet “Paid Advertisment” that runs at the top of the ads. Publications demand that they format the adicle to look different than real artciles. If the paper uses a san serif font for its headlines, they have to use a serif font. If the paper uses a serif font for the text, the ad will be san serif. A lot of people still miss it, but an effort was at least made to draw attention to the advertising. Same thing should apply when a credit card company that DOES send you checks decides to market one of these BS offers to its members. In those instances, it just can’t look the same except for a disclaimer.

  17. DaWezl says:

    I loved it back when they would send those long distance checks. I think I made about $200, before they stopped sending them. I don’t recall there being any sort of a limitation such as having to maintain the service for a set number of months (although if there was one, it was a very short time), so I’d just jump from offer to offer to offer.

    I didn’t really care what my long distance was, b/c I was allowed to make personal calls from work. So it didn’t matter which plan I was on. And meanwhile they kept mailing me money every other month.

    But this offer sucks.

  18. Falconfire says:

    been getting them for months. only issue I have with Chase honestly and I HAVE complained about it.

  19. jackhandey says:

    @SpenceMan01: I don’t know if there is a limit, but I always get these for odd values like 19.32, 11.28, etc. I assume they do it because it makes them look more like actual rebate checks.

    Has anyone cashed these and successfully gotten out of the contracts with no hassle?

  20. SaveMeJeebus says:

    I can’t even get a goddamned rebate check that I am expecting, so I’m definitely skeptical of unsolicited checks.

  21. Leiterfluid says:

    So you might say it’s a “re-bait” check?

  22. ludwigk says:

    @jackhandey: When’s the last time you participated in a rebate that wasn’t in whole dollars?

  23. ClayS says:

    What would happen if you crossed out the verbiage “By cashing this check…” and went ahead and deposited it after endorsing it?

    Would they enroll you in the program anyway? Or refuse payment on the check? Or would they just pay the check?

    I’m curious if anyone has ever tried this.

  24. keitht701 says:

    I keep getting these checks from chase and other credit cards that I have closed. One thing I’ve been wondering is if I cash these checks they technically can’t charge my accound so is it free money?

  25. GregC1968 says:

    There’s no such thing as a free lunch….

  26. mac-phisto says:

    @econobiker: technically, you could get away with something like this. technically. a lot of people don’t realize that a check is a contract & people can attach terms to such checks. banks do it all the time. so do car dealers. & lawyers. & more banks.

    the technical part is that if you are sending in a check to fulfill payment as part of a contract, your endorsement clause most likely wouldn’t supersede the contract & wouldn’t nullify clauses contained within it.

    where you could probably get away with it is paying an individual a sum of money where no written contract exists. perhaps you agree to pay someone $500/mo. for 6 months for a debt. on the second check you write something like “by endorsing this check, payee acknowledges payment in full of any debt for which such payment is made”. he throws the check in his bank & you stop paying him. in a court of law, a judge would probably rule in your favor b/c he agreed to the amount as payment in full & no other contract exists.

    @ClayS: crossing out the endorsement clause doesn’t nullify it. it could void the check though.

  27. Major-General says:

    I once got one of these type offers from AT&T. Cash the check ($25 I think) and we’ll switch your phone service. I was in college at the time and the number they were offering to switch was one for the campus switchboard.

    Yeah, not a good idea to change the campus to AT&T.

  28. timmus says:

    Timmus’ Rule of Thumb #261: Never cash a check from something with a preprinted “PRESORT” postmark.

  29. Nytmare says:

    Maybe I could handwrite on all my checks for paying bills “By cashing this check you agree to refund me the full amount of this check within 30 days” and it would be just as legal.

  30. humphrmi says:

    @nytmare: Tell us how that works out for you.

  31. jackhandey says:

    @ludwigk: “When’s the last time you participated in a rebate that wasn’t in whole dollars?”

    Good point. My current rebate program (Chase) is in $50 increments. I seem to remember an old Citi credit card that once cut checks at the end of the year for whatever rebate balance I had accrued. It was often not in whole dollar increments, but I can’t be sure without rummaging through old statements/receipts.

    When they don’t use whole dollars, it initially appears more legitimate to me, like they are actually refunding some exact amount that they owe me or are giving me some percent back on purchases for the month. (Though I still know better) This is just my initial impression when I receive one of these checks.

  32. m4nea says:

    i can’t believe people fall for scams like these…
    if you get something in the mail that you didn’t order, then throw it out. period.
    scams are not hard to avoid.

  33. rmosler says:

    @econobiker: I completely agree. Why can’t I cross out that statement, then print below it: “If you process this check, then you agree to omit the prior clause.” Then give them a reasonable amount of time from when the check was cashed to opt out, like lets say 3 days.

  34. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Nobody is going to send you free money (that really not a good business model), and if they do, there is assuredly a catch. Which means it’s not really free. See?

    I get this kind of garbage all the time. I’ll give things like that about 3 second of my time and into the woodstove they go.

  35. g4lt says:

    @econobiker: the most common “fine print” I put on checks I write is “paid in full through (date)”, making me free of unannounced extra charges when they cash it.

  36. calacak says:

    While this check is branded by Chase, it’s really from Affinion Group (former Trilegiant). All of the marketing and servicing is done by them. Chase puts the little check in their envelopes and gets a piece of the pie when someone signs up.

    I worked at Affinion for quite a few years and saw the behind the scenes of it all. I once got to hear some “members” call in and complain and it was amazing the number of peopel that don’t even read it over, not to mention how many of them are senior citizens. (It also made me feel good that I work in IT and not a call center :)

    Technically it’s legal (and has been held up in court if I recall) and they usually get a 1% to 3% return rate on sending these suckers out. The numbers change based on success rate. If more people cash in at $1.23, they’ll send more of those out. A lot of work goes into hitting that sweet spot.

    While the entire thing might be legal, I do agree that it should be considered a scam. It takes a common and well know item – a check – and turns it into something else…. a instant cash back membership contract that LOOKS like a check. It’s entire success rate is based people not reading it over and doing with it what they do with other checks… cashing in. And at this point it’s like any other membership program, they hope you forget to cancel or go long enough where they don’t have to pay you back.

    Anyway, I recommend not cashing them at all, even if you plan to cancel later, because it only takes you forgetting one time for them to recoup most of that money back.

  37. D-Bo says:

    As soon as my Credit Union merged with a larger one (OnPoint) I started receiving this misleading garbage.

  38. goodkitty says:

    @nweaver: Sure, but your lawyers are smaller than their lawyers. They have the gold, so they make the rules.

  39. ShadowFalls says:

    The one big issue about these checks is that if anyone cashes them you are the one getting held responsible for it.

    Then you have to spend likely hours on the phone figuring out what the charges are, getting them canceled, and getting your money back.

    If you get these things in the mail, be sure to shred.

  40. FromThisSoil says:

    I got this exact check and promptly shredded it.

  41. Zain says:

    This is hardly a scam. The terms are provided very clearly to anyone who bothers to read what they’re endorsing the check for. Take the check and cancel the subscription within the 30-day trial period.

  42. consumed says:

    If everyone would cash their $9.25 check and then promptly cancel within the 30 day trial, they might stop sending these scams.

  43. Andrew says:

    Several years ago I got one of these for only $3. Needless to say I didn’t even bother wondering if I could cash it then cancel. $3 isn’t worth the hassle (neither it $9.25)

  44. HawkWolf says:

    Everything that comes from credit card companies and is not a statement, bill, or replacement card is shredded after being looked at.

    All those ‘credit checks’? Shredded. Shred shred shred. I get unbelievable numbers of those things!

  45. rochec says:

    Really, when was the last time someone sent you free money? It’s always a catch.

    I got a check from Citibank the other day for $5,000. Only something like 30% interest on it! What a deal.

  46. Gesualdo says:

    I used to receive checks like this from AT&T for one of their so called “credit protector” programs. The first month was free, and you could cancel at any time for no reason. I deposited the check, waited 3 days to receive their welcome mailers, then called in and canceled the service. I managed to do this twice before they stopped sending me such offers. Since I had already opted out of all of their info sharing programs, I didn’t seem to get any increase in junk mail from it either.

  47. pigeonpenelope says:

    I refuse to do business with any of those companies. I am a member of a local credit union and I have one of their credit cards. It doesn’t necessarily come with a lot of “perks” but it also doesn’t come with any scams either. Also the interest rate stays the same no matter what. I think the big lesson learned here is that research about a company should be done before you sign in the first place. Also look at word of mouth. I signed up at that credit union because everyone in town raved about it and said they were awesome. I learned the hard way when I was 18 about credit cards from large agencies with their hidden scams. Btw, not all credit unions are great. I went with Vista Federal Credit Union when I was working for Disney (that’s their credit union btw) and they are awful. They nickle and dimed me to death.

    Just be weary next time before you sign for financial services.

  48. yet another example of how there’s no such thing as free money.

  49. psyop63b says:

    I get these kinda things periodically. I know what they are. I even played the game a couple times:

    - cash it
    - wait about a week
    - call in and cancel
    - keep the money

    In retrospect, still not worth the time, and the need to remember when the “trial period” ends. Shred these things.

  50. swalve says:

    @econobiker: Did you ever read the micro-print on the signature line? I did, and it never said anything like that.

  51. swalve says:

    @ClayS: A contract requires the consent of both parties. They would not have the opportunity to review and accept your changes.

  52. belch says:

    “Didn’t you wonder why you were getting checks for doing absolutely nothing?”
    “I figured because the democrats were in power again.”

  53. sibertater says:

    I shred these things as soon as I get them. I never cash them and I never care to.

  54. whydidnt says:

    I think this is the same offer I received and what makes it even worse is the terms of the “Membership” that is supposed to give you 2% cash back on purchases. If you read the fine print, you have to SEND them your receipts in order to get the cash back. How many people are going to do that? Can you imagine mailing all of your credit card receipts to a shady outfit such as this? It’s pretty bad when a huge institution such as Chase has to sink to such a low all in the name of making a few more bucks.

  55. Optimus says:

    @t-r0y: It needs to be very small and in a typeface which at least seems to match the check typeface at a quick glance. If you hand write it, they’re sure to notice. I would do something more repetitive, what they are.
    “By accepting this check, you are enrolling in the Payback Program. The Payback Program has a monthly fee of [twice the amount on the check]. To cancel this program, please contact me at the home phone listed on my account.”
    I would suggest only doing this with banks which have tried the same on you, because then you can show their check in court and at least get some sort of settlement from them.

    And don’t forget to make a photocopy of the check before you send it.

  56. AlphaTeam says:

    @Belch: Wouldn’t it be the Republicans? =)

    And with these checks, I never open them, because they always look the same with the tear off sides.

  57. Nathliea says:

    You can call Chase and opt-out from any third-party marketing and even convenience checks, over-the-phone solicitations (such as when you call them about your account), etc. It will only take a minute or two and it would save your shredder some work.

  58. EBounding says:

    @smitty1123: I’ve also done these before and cancel. But I only bother if it’s $20+ dollars. I see no problem with these. You should always know why you’re getting a check.