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How to Tell If a Check is Real or Fake

Learn how to tell if a check is real or fake as part of a scam based on these obvious signs. Avoid losing money to this common type of fraud.

You got a check from someone and you’re ready to deposit it to your bank account.

All you have to do is snap a picture on your phone or bring it to your bank and fill out a deposit slip. The money will automatically arrive in your account, right?

In the vast majority of cases, this is true.

Depositing checks couldn’t be easier these days.

However:

Fake checks are part of sneaky financial scams that could prey on unsuspecting victims.

Even if the check is legit, if the account holder doesn’t have enough cash in the account to cover the check, you could find yourself facing repercussions.

Here are some things that you should know about fake and bad checks.

Why You Want to Avoid Fake Checks

There are multiple reasons that you want to avoid fake checks, and some of them aren’t completely obvious.

You don't get paid

The most obvious reason that you want to avoid depositing a fake check is that you won’t get the money that you’re expecting to receive.

When the bank discovers that a fake check has been deposited, it will refuse to credit your account for the amount. If you’ve already been given the money, the bank will take that money back.

If you received the check in exchange for doing some freelance work or as a reimbursement for a purchase, you won’t get any of the money you’re really owed.

You might lose money

Fake checks are often associated with different financial scams.

The most common:

You get a check for an amount that exceeds what you were expecting.

The payer tells you to deposit the check and then forward the excess to someone else or back to the payer.

If you get caught by one of these scams, you’ll send your own money along, expecting for the check to clear, only to find that you don’t receive the funds that you’re expecting.

You’ll have sent someone else your own money while the deposited check is not backed by real funds.

You’ll pay fees

Banks don’t like dealing with fake checks.

If you deposit a check that doesn't have any money behind it, you’ll likely wind up paying a deposit item returned fee.

At the big banks, you can expect to pay about $12 per each deposit item returned or about $15 per each foreign deposit item returned.

Signs of a Fake Check

So, how can you identify a fake check?

The problem is that it’s incredibly hard to tell if a check is fake just by looking at it.

The best way to identify a fake check is by the circumstances surrounding the check.

Urgency

One of the surest signs of a fake check is urgency.

If the person who gave you the check is urging you to deposit it as quickly as possible, that’s a reason to be wary.

In most cases, this forces you into making bad decisions while you're hyped up on the prospect of easy money.

Remember:

If it's too good to be true, it probably is.

Refund a portion of the check

Another major sign of a fake check is if you are asked to deposit the check and refund a portion of it to the person who gave you the check or to someone else.

While it might take just a day or two for the money from a check to show up in your account, the process of getting funds moved from the bank that issued the check to your bank is a long one.

It can take weeks for your bank to figure out that the check that you deposited is fake or bad.

Eventually:

The bank will find out and you're on the hook for that missing amount.

By this time, the scammer will be long gone with your money, without having given you a dime.

How to Verify that a Check is Good

If you have a check that you think may be fake, take these steps to verify its authenticity.

Call the bank

Any check should have the name of the issuing institution on it.

Don’t call the number printed on the check.

Why?

The check could have fake contact information and you could be calling the fraudster to "verify" the check.

Rather, look up the bank's contact detail yourself.

When you call, ask them to verify whether the account that the check will draw from actually exists.

Most banks will do this, though many won’t tell you whether there is enough in the account to cover the amount on the check for security reasons.

Cash the check in person

If you don’t mind getting cash for the check rather than depositing it directly to your bank account, visit the bank that issued the check and try to cash it in person.

If you go to the same bank that issued the check, they should be able to confirm whether it is real right away.

The same goes for cashier's checks, which many people think are safer -- but they can be faked as well.

Now:

You might think of taking the check to check-cashing locations, but they're likely to be quite experienced dealing with fake or bad checks.

For that reason, these check-cashing places will only take payroll checks.

Don’t Just Deposit and Wait a Few Days

One thing that you shouldn’t do when you’re dealing with a possibly fake check is to deposit it and wait a few days, then assume that the check is legit.

It can take the bank weeks to find out a check is fake, at which point the money will be removed from your account.

If you’re worried about a check being fake, use one of the steps above, or speak to the bank about it specifically.

With that said:

Most bank employees will be able to catch these types of fakes checks before they enter the system. Take their advice.

Common Associated Scams

These are some of the most common scams associated with fake checks.

Lottery scams

Lottery scams are among the most common scams for online fraudsters.

You’ll receive a message congratulating on winning some lottery that you most likely don’t remember entering.

You may be told that the lottery was held long ago and that you were only notified now due to a mix-up or paperwork error, and asked to keep the error quiet.

If you reach out to the person who contacted you, they’ll be incredibly happy to hear from you and tell you that they can deposit the funds to your bank account as soon as you pay a small processing charge, transfer fee, or similar.

Many scammers will disappear as soon as you’ve submitted payment, taking your money and running.

Others will appear to follow through sending you a check in the mail for the amount that you’ve supposedly won. You can deposit the check and may even find that the money clears.

Of course, you’ll eventually learn that the check was fake and the money will be deducted from your account.

Work-from-home jobs

Few people could deny the appeal of being able to work from the comfort of their own home.

There’s no end to the number of scammers online who offer work from home jobs.

They’ll advertise easy work that pays a reasonable amount, often throwing in flexible hours arrangements or other perks.

Some of these types of scams will have you send an application fee before disappearing with your money.

The advanced scams will onboard you and have you start doing work.

You’ll get paychecks in the mail and deposit them, only to find weeks later that the checks were fake. You’ll have done work for weeks or months, with no pay, and the “company” paying you will disappear without a trace.

Mystery shopping

Mystery shopping scams involve a fake company hiring you to help retailers gauge the quality of their customer service, the cleanliness of their stores, and how customers interact with their products.

You’ll be asked to visit a specific store to purchase a specific product or service.

You’ll be told that you’ll be reimbursed for your purchase, plus an additional amount as your compensation. In some cases, you’ll even be told to keep the product that you purchased.

Many of these scammers will make you pay an application fee to apply to be a mystery shopper or will get money out of your pocket some other way.

The way it usually ends:

The scammer giving you a fake check to reimburse your purchases and disappearing with your money and the products that you bought.

Conclusion

Dealing with fake checks can be a major headache.

Use these tips to make sure you avoid depositing fake checks and that you know how to make sure a check is real.

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