Fake Check Scams

Are you a grand prize winner?  Have you won a foreign lottery?  Did you receive a check from an organization with instructions to deposit the money in your account and then wire transfer a portion of money for “processing fees” or taxes?
If this sounds familiar, you may have witnessed a fake check scam. The number of people that fall victim to fake check scams increases every year. It is amongst the most popular scams in the United States resulting in innocent victims losing thousands of dollars.  There are many different versions of this scam, but they all end the same way. There never was a prize or foreign lottery.  The bank will eventually determine that the deposited check was fake.  The money that you wired for “processing fees” is gone and you have to repay the bank the cost of the fake check.

fake check

The best defense against fake check scams is common sense. Whether someone overpays you for merchandise or they claim that you have won a foreign lottery or prize there are some warning signs that might let you know that it is a scam.

  • Did you apply for the contest or lottery?   If you did not enter/apply for a contest or lottery how could you have won? Don’t let the lure of the prize overpower your judgment. This is the first sign of a scam.
  • Do you need to wire transfer money in order to claim your prize?   There is little recourse if something goes wrong with a wire transfer, which is why it is a favorable technique of scam artists. If someone requires you to wire money before claiming a prize, it is most likely a scam. Only wire money to trusted sources.
  • Why would someone overpay you for merchandise?   If someone is buying merchandise and overpays you, send the check back to them and ask for the correct amount. Do not deposit the check and send the buyer a check or wire money for the difference.

If you find yourself in any of these situations, contact the Office of Consumer Protection for assistance.  For more information see the FTC's page on How to Spot, Avoid and Report Fake Check Scams.

Until a bank confirms that a check has cleared, the account holder is responsible for the checks that are deposited in his or her account. Banks have to make the first $100 dollars available to you the day after the check is deposited in your account. The remainder of the check must be made available to you within 2-5 days after the check was deposited. The downside to being able to receive money from a deposited check so quickly is that it could take the bank weeks to determine whether or not a check is real. If any money has been withdrawn from the check, the account holder is responsible for repaying the bank if the check is found to be fraudulent.

Montgomery County
Office of Consumer Protection 
100 Maryland Ave., Ste. 3600
Rockville, MD 20850
T: 240.777.3636
The Office of Consumer Protection OCP) investigates Fake Check Scams and offers consumers advice. To file a complaint with us, click here >> File a Complaint
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20580
T: 1.877.382.4357
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers information on:
  • Identifying Fake Check Scams
  • Different Versions of Fake Check Scams
  • Filing Complaints (Please note that the FTC does not investigate individual complaints.)
  • Spot & Avoid Fake Check Scams
Postal Inspection Service
10500 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 200
Columbia, MD 21044-3509
T: 1.877.876.2455
Contact the Postal Inspection Service to file a complaint involving mail fraud.