Look Out For These Check Scams

Check fraud has been around as long as checks, and even though technology is fast rendering the old-school payment method obsolete, check fraudsters have still gotta eat, so they’ve just got to try that much harder to con you out of your money.

Chicago Tribune consumer columnist Kayce T. Ataiyero put together a vertiable Check Scam Avoidance for Dummies checklist. Some of these we’ve covered before, but it never hurts to brush up on the most popular tricks.

—Toss any offer that asks you to pay for a gift or prize. A legitimate sweepstakes or lottery would not ask for payment in return.

—Do not enter foreign lotteries. It is illegal to play a foreign lottery by mail or by phone.

—When selling an item, do not accept a check or money order for more than the agreed-upon price.

—If you accept payment by check, ask for it to be drawn from a bank with a local branch so you can verify it at the institution. If that’s not possible, call the bank listed on the check. Get the bank’s phone number from a trusted source, not the person who gave you the check.

—If you deposit a check from a source you don’t know well, wait a few weeks before using the funds to make sure the check is legitimate. If you were to spend the money before the check clears, the bank could force you to make up for its loss.

—Contact your local and state consumer protection agency and the Federal Trade Commission at 877-FTC-HELP if you suspect you have been a check-scam victim.

—Visit fakechecks.org for more tips.

Another important tip: Don’t get behind anyone at the grocery store who’s paying by check. Those people take forever.

Don’t get bounced by fake check scams [Chicago Tribune]
(Photo:mrbill)

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  1. Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

    Hey now Phil, I sometimes pay by check at the grocery store… I hand them the check, the machine fills everything out and I just sign it. About the same time as putting my debit card thru. Doesn’t always take forever :)

    • bumpducks says:

      @verucalise: Sorry, but in my book the minute it takes for the computer to print out the check and the ten seconds it takes for a debit transaction are not “about the same amount of time”.

      I don’t mean to disrespect you by asking this, but why don’t you just pay by debit/credit card drawn out of your checking account and simply log the transaction as a debit in your checkbook for your groceries?

      • RandomHookup says:

        @bumpducks: What about paying with cash or chanage or lots of bills? How about a gift card and then a credit card to pay the remainder? Don’t forget coupons and price checks.

        That extra 50 seconds you gain (if that) is seriously going to make a difference in your life, I can tell.

        • cwsterling says:

          @RandomHookup: if you have somebody who is behind them complaining about them leaving their dog in the car and that they chose the express lane to be quick…

          • trujunglist says:

            @cwsterling…dislikes people who write checks:

            Where I come from, that is highly illegal and merits a beat down. Only truly selfish dicks leave their dog in the car. Doesn’t matter how long, you WILL get your beat down.

          • RandomHookup says:

            @cwsterling…dislikes people who write checks: No one said it was necessarily happening in the express lane. The decision to leave your dog in the car is your own.

            How fast you can check out is a random result. No one can guarantee that you won’t pick the line that suddenly has a problem, that runs out of change, that changes cashiers or that has a customer drop and break a bottle of juice. I recommend the self-checkout at the stores that offer then. At least, you have a lot more control. (or maybe those rare stores that feed all registers out of one queue)

      • ugadawg says:

        @bumpducks: He might be floating a check like I do the day before getting paid. Otherwise I’m swipe happy with my card.

        • Scuba Steve says:

          @ugadawg: I’ve floated a check before.. cost me $105 dollars in overdrafts.. Apparently the bank can process a check and not tell you about it.

          So.. I don’t do that anymore. The money is gone.

        • SanDiegoDude says:

          @ugadawg: Wow, that brings back memories from my early 20’s… All transactions seem to hit my bank immediately now, even checks (my bank shows them as “pending” and they happily charge me overdraft fees if I spend below the pending balance line)

          • edwardso says:

            @SanDiegoDude: The law changed a few years back and checks are automatically debited now

            • Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

              @edwardso: Even paying by check at my local grocery store, it takes 3-4 days to hit my checking account. It doesn’t even show up as pending. But maybe that’s just my credit union.

          • ugadawg says:

            @SanDiegoDude: I only float out of desperation now. It’s been a long time since because of what everyone has said about them being automatically drafted from your account. I do know that when Wal-mart started doing that I stopped that. There are some stores that will take their time still with cashing it, meaning 1 day’s time. However it’s all about swiping at the register now. I hardly ever carry cash on me unless I need to pay someone or if I’m going to happy hour and need alternative ways of splitting the check.

      • Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

        @bumpducks: It’s never taken a minute at my local grocery store. I hand them the check, and as soon as they are finished scanning the items they put the check right thru- I’m done paying for $200 worth of groceries before they even have the groceries packed.

        As for the debit card question- Occassionally, if I’m just running into a gas station to pay for gas, I just grab my debit card and put it into my pocket afterwards. Or I pull it out of my pocketbook to pay for something over the phone and leave it by my desk. Then when I grab my pocketbook, go food shopping- oops, debit card not there. So instead of paying with my credit card, I just use the check.

        Don’t know why people are all up in arms about checks- I pay 90% of my bills online and such, but that doesn’t make a check obsolete per say.

        • nakedscience says:

          @verucalise: And man do checks come in handy when I lose my debit card (or more likely, forget it at the ATM machine).

        • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

          @verucalise: definitely not obsolete. i don’t carry a lot of cash around and some places don’t take debit or credit cards. currently i frequently find myself furniture shopping at thrift stores and i bought a loveseat with a check just this past weekend.

        • HogwartsAlum says:

          @verucalise:

          “Don’t know why people are all up in arms about checks- I pay 90% of my bills online and such, but that doesn’t make a check obsolete per say.”

          Because they are too impatient to wait for the person in front of them. They want to get out of the line NOW NOW NOW HURRY HURRY HURRY.

          Personally, I like to get through the line quickly to get away from the impulse items they plant right there.

      • Trai_Dep says:

        @bumpducks: Don’t buy into the advertising scam perpetrated by the credit card companies seeking merchant fees.
        Checks are perfectly fine and usually take about as much time to process at the register.
        And, there’s something to be said about the act of writing a check. It feels more “real”, which gives your brain time to think, “I’m spending money”. Which may result in less silly, spontaneous purchases.

    • Starfury says:

      @verucalise:

      I like to pay cash. I bring my change jar in and start counting out the coins one at a time…while in the express lane.

  2. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    I would add… If you are accepting a cheque then read and confirm everything written on the cheque. Ask for ID to confirm all the details… Ensure the numerical amount and written amount are clearly written and identical… check the date… etc.

    Years ago I had a university student sublet a room from me and good god she tried everything to ensure her cheques were not cashable. I eventually took her final cheque to her band and requested they cash it. They wanted a reason and upon hearing it they cashed the cheque.

    Cash is KING… but for large ($k) cash sales meet the person at your bank so you can deposit it right away… unless you are of course trying to hide your drug dealer profits… in which case just have your Rotweiler hold it.

    • Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

      @GreatWhiteNorth: Now I thought we were supposed to hide our big money inside our computer cases… Now you tell me about this “bank” thing! Who knew?!

  3. winstonthorne says:

    There should be a special slow lane for check writers – just like there’s a special lane for people with only a few items who aren’t planning on taking seven years to check out.

    • RandomHookup says:

      @winstonthorne: Perhaps they should reprice the express line like some toll booths do. In a hurry…pay a little bit more.

      • anduin says:

        @RandomHookup:
        or not and you hurry your ass up. Some of us ARE that busy and extra few minutes here and there throughout the day add up quick. I love my local grocery store, express checkout do NOT accept checks, figure you should be saving that for big purchases anyways

        • RandomHookup says:

          @anduin: So why are you wasting your time in the grocery store? Your beef is with the store for not providing a “I’m in such a damn hurry that all slower people irritate me” lane.

  4. edwardso says:

    I’ve been behind many a person who can’t figure out how to use the card reader who take considerably longer than a person writing a check

    • Murph1908 says:

      @edwardso:
      This occurs when the store makes you choose Credit instead of Debit through an unclear and unintuitive interface.

      The stores that just let you swipe and sign (or not even sign for less than $25, like Chipotle), this is not an issue.

      It’s only when you are faced with the “Enter PIN” prompt, and don’t know whether you should hit cancel or no or what to process as a credit.

  5. pop top says:

    The only reason people who write checks take so long is they somehow forget that they need to pay for something, so they wait until the last possible moment to pull it out.* Then they need a pen. And they forgot the total. What’s the date? Who do I make this check out too? How much was the total again? How do you spell this store’s name? If they prepared all the info besides the total while their stuff was being scanned, it probably wouldn’t take as long.

    *- This happens with most people though. Oh, I have to pay for this? Let me dig around in my gigantic purse or my jacket with 50 pockets.

    • RandomHookup says:

      @squinko: My favorite group of folks is the guys and gals on cell phones who think the conversation is more important than the reason they are standing in front of a cashier at a store. They then dig into their own bag/pocket to try to find the method of payment while still conversing about their plans to remodel the playroom.

    • redskull says:

      @squinko: Thank you Squinko, you summed up one of my pet peeves perfectly. I hate when people stand there in a trance while their items are being rang up. Are they trying to transfer the funds by telepathy?

      I pay by check quite often, and there’s usually more than enough time while standing in the checkout line to fill out the date, store name and my name on the check, leaving only the amount to add in when I actually get up to the register.

      As for the cell phone talkers who can’t get off the phone long enough to pay… let’s just say the only reason those people still walk the earth is due to my fear of prison.

      • edwardso says:

        @redskull: “As for the cell phone talkers who can’t get off the phone long enough to pay… let’s just say the only reason those people still walk the earth is due to my fear of prison.”

        Me too, I really think a part of high school graduation requirements should be having to work in a grocery store and/or restaurant. Many people just don’t know how to function in these enviroments, talking on the phone, leaving carts in the middle of aisles, not having payment ready etc. These things slow things down and make the overall experience more frustrating

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      @squinko: I get annoyed when my cashier refuses to start processing the transaction until I find my rewards card. Usually I put it on the first item down the belt, but sometimes I forget as I’m frantically unloading the cart o’ 600 items (or sometimes I’m trying to speed things along by getting the cart unloaded first), and they’ll just stand there until I stop, dig in my purse, find my keys, find the right tag, and let them scan it.

      BUT I KNOW THE MACHINE TAKES THE STUPID CARD AT ANY POINT DURING THE TRANSACTION, and if the cashier waiting until I was done unloading and just started scanning stuff, I could dig in peace while they scanned.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        @Eyebrows McGee (now with more baby!): My favorite cashier is the one who gets annoyed with me (and expresses such annoyance) when he/she asks for my reward card and it’s on my keychain. As if it’s such a hassle to take my set of keys and scan the reward card I’ve already singled out for them to take. If you don’t like scanning the keychain cards, DON’T PROVIDE THEM!

    • johnva says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: Yeah, that annoys me. Usually you can swipe your card the second the first item is scanned, and then it takes only 5 seconds or so for the entire transaction to complete.

    • skloon says:

      @squinko: Not to mentiont that they have no id, cheque cashing card, their address has changed and I am behind them trying to balance two frozen turkeys and a watermelon as their huge purse is on the counter and they glare at me as I try to push it down towards them.

  6. morganlh85 says:

    The photo with the article reminded me of fourth grade…our teacher set up our classroom to be a “city.” When we did all our homework, we got “paychecks” but had to pay rent for our locker and our desk, so we learned how to write checks out and balance the register. Then there was a “store” in the classroom where we could spend our leftover money on Lisa Frank hologram pencils and candy bars and whatnot, or you could save your money for the big end of the year auction.

    I asked my now husband to write out a check for our rent one month and he, at about 21, had never written a check before! That made me so grateful for that awesome teacher. :)

    • SacraBos says:

      @morganlh85: That was a great teacher. I really like the part where you could SAVE for the end-of-year auctions. Everyone should have a class like that, and doing it at such a young age is wonderful. I think I’ll do something like that for my daughters (one is going into 4th grade next year).

    • Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

      @morganlh85: My husband, 24, says he doesn’t know how to write a check either.. but I’ve tried to teach him how to do it and he really just isn’t interested in learning..

      If I’m ever sick/incopasitated.. he’ll never make it. lol.

      I had to learn how to use a checkbook in my 7th grade math class, it was a good lesson to learn but mine wasn’t as fun as yours sounds like it was!

    • bibliophibian says:

      @morganlh85: I was standing in a long line at the credit union some years ago, when a guy in his late teens/early 20s walked in, walked directly up to a cashier, handed her a wad of cash, and turned around to walk out.

      A discussion/argument ensued wherein it was revealed, much to the amusement of all of us waiting and watching, that the young “man” had been instructed by his mother to go in and make the deposit for her. When he said he didn’t know how, she apparently said something along the lines of “For Christ’s sake, you just hand the teller the money, it’s not that difficult!”

      For the first part of watching this scene, I was convinced that the guy was either, ahem, “delayed,” or was chemically impaired – NO ONE gets to be ~18 without knowing that when you go into a bank or other establishment where people are standing in line, you have to stand in line too, RIGHT??? I have a brother with paranoid schizophrenia and have worked in the mental health care field for several years, so there’s a certain “not sharing your reality” vibe that’s really easy to pick up on, too, and I looked for that.

      But as it played out, and as the guy got more and more indignant that they weren’t just taking his money, and complained more and more bitterly about, “She didn’t say ANYTHING about any ‘deposit slip’ or waiting!” combined with his shouting at the security guard, “And how the fuck am I supposed to know that? I’ve never been in a damn BANK before, I’m a STUDENT” I became more and more convinced that he was, honestly, JUST THAT DUMB. My assumption was confirmed, IMO, when he finally got fed up and said, “Fine, just forget it then – there’s a bunch of other banks on this street and I’m sure one of them will be glad to take our money since you don’t want it.”

      Clueless.

      I’ve been “shadowing” my son – standing in the background while he deals with cashiers, bank tellers, medical history forms, gas pumps, etc – since he was about 7. If something stumps him or there’s a problem, I’m there to step in, but for all intents and purposes he’s handling it on his own. I’ve been *obsessive* about it ever since that incident.

      • Tankueray says:

        @bibliophibian: That sounds like the kind of kid that gets a credit card handed to them and they just think it’s free money. You’ve seen them on the Real Housewives, MTVs Sweet 16, etc.

        I heard a story on Dave Ramsey the other day where a ladies 21yr old brother-in-law took out a bunch of CCs to charge them up and then file bankruptcy.

        When I got my first CC, even though it was entirely my own, I called my grandma and got permission every time I wanted to use it. (And I payed the bill!) I was taught that having a CC was privilege and not a right. That was a long time ago, I have occasionally become a slave to my plastic masters…

    • trujunglist says:

      @morganlh85:

      Sounds EXACTLY like my 4th grade class. I mean, exactly. They also had something similar but much more toned down in 5th grade. I loved it, but it was also stressful when I had to make rent but had spent it on pencils or something!

  7. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    People who have a check signed, dated, and just waiting for the dollar amount are fine. People who sign their name and hand a check over for the computer to print the amount on it, they’re fine.

    It’s the people who get to the checkout lane, stare at their groceries as they go by, and when the total is tallied, THEN they dig around in their wallet, purse, etc. for a checkbook, THEN they start to fill it out. It’s these people that aggravate me and make me want to scream.

    I don’t think it’s the checkbook people specifically, because the debit/credit card people who wait until the total is tallied and then take out their form of payment aggravate me too, but at least with a debit or credit card, it’s just a swipe and a few buttons to hit. Check writers have to write the dollar amount in numbers, the dollar amount in words, the grocery store name, the reason for the check, the date…and then if they’re not careful and they rip the check, ooooh boy.

    • Cybrczch says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: Cards aren’t always fast, usually if they wait until the last minute to swipe them, it’s ‘please swipe again, it didn’t go through’ and after the 4th or 5th time they get the plastic bag to wrap it in (which usually works), or they key it in by hand.
      Another favorite are the folks who decide then that ‘hold on I think I have a coupon for that’

    • elganador says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: So…you haven’t had any groceries ring up wrong or the cashier screw something up, leading you to watch the register total and items to help curb these problems before you’re coming across them in the parking lot or at home?

      Wish I had that kind of luck.

  8. nakedscience says:

    The ONLY thing I use checks for anymore is rent. Some apartment complexes allow you to pay online, but not mine. Sad. And it’s cheaper (and easier) than having to get a money order every month from the ban.

    And checks come in handy when I lose my debit card (or forget it in the ATM machine, which I am prone to do).

  9. nybiker says:

    As others have said, it’s not the check writing per se, but the people who at the last minute decide (for whatever reason) to use a check. Their feeling of entitlement with regards to their time being more important that ours is what galls us all. And yes, prison time scares me too, otherwise there would be more checkout-lane rage reported in the papers.

    Remember the 6P’s: Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance.

  10. I Love New Jersey says:

    I entered a foreign lottery a couple of times, however in all cases I was in that country and bought a ticket – the only way to legitimately participate in a foreign lottery. I actually won £20 with a £1 ticket.

  11. Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

    I used to work with a woman whose tip for grocery and other stores was “Pick the cashier who looks the smartest.” Not the line with single men, or the line with no check-payers … the cashier who looks the smartest.

    I feel rotten for saying this, but her tip works. That’s ALWAYS the line that’s moving the fastest and with the fewest pauses to call management for moments of, “Wait, how do I do this again?”

  12. HogwartsAlum says:

    Now I’m waiting for someone to try to pass a check from the little checkbook in the picture.

  13. christoj879 says:

    I was at Redner’s picking up some Gatorade and ketchup, and the woman in front of me asked for a pack of cigarettes. $5 and change, and she pulls out her checkbook.

    *writing away*
    Cashier: You don’t have to write anything, just sign it, our machine will do the rest.
    *continues writing*
    “I’m sorry, it’s just force of habit.”
    *finishes writing*
    Cashier: OK, I’ll need your drivers license. Hang on, let me try it again. The check was declined.
    “OK, thanks.”
    *walks away*

    At what point in your life do you decide to pay for cigarettes–with a check that doesn’t pass because of a bad ChexSystems report? And then not have a $5 spot to pay for them?

    I think some people have just woken up and said, “you know what? Fuck it.”

  14. Eric Jay says:

    For those times when I really do want to accept payment by mail, I always insist on a US Postal Service money order. Upon receipt, I take the money order to any post office, where they verify authenticity and pay out cash. No worries that a check will turn out to be bad after I’ve deposited it to my bank.

  15. Bs Baldwin says:

    The bank will force you to pay the negative balance, there is no might about it.

  16. conedude13 says:

    i got a bum check once and they asked me to deposit the whole thing and just send them back the difference. i just put the whole thing in there and spent all of it. it took BANK OF AMERICA(!!) SIX MONTHS to let me know that it was a bum check!!

    if this happens to you, all you have to do is ask the bank to check it for you and they can let you know in a hot minute. but if you deposit it then it will bounce, then the bank will try it again, time passes, will bounce and try again and will go on for a while. so just ask the bank if you are unsure of the check.