Attorney General Denise George continues to alert residents of scams circulating in the community utilizing fraudulent checks and money orders. The Virgin Islands Police Department’s Economic Crimes Unit on St. Thomas and St. Croix have reported an increase in counterfeit checks and money order cases in the last several months.
Fraudulent Check/ Money Order Scams
This scam in general sends a victim counterfeit checks or money orders. The victims are instructed to deposit the item into their bank account, then purchase gift cards and call a number to give the activation information. The victims are promised some of the money that was deposited. The victims then deposit the counterfeit item, uses their own money, buys the gift cards and calls the number with the information.
The gift cards are redeemed then the phone number is disconnected. The victims’ banks then call and inform them that the counterfeit item bounced, therefore resulting in a loss of funds. There are various variations of this scam, but this is the outcome. It could take a week or several months to discover that the check or money order was counterfeit.
Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General Sigrid M. Tejo said, “Last year there were only a few reported cases. So far this year, there have been over a dozen. These are difficult cases to investigate as the counterfeit items usually come from a mailbox that is not traceable. We have worked with the U.S. Postal Service to help track the mail envelopes. The second obstacle is the phone number that is used to obtain the information from the victim uses several servers and satellites making it even impossible for the FBI to track.”
Who are the scammers?
Fraudulent checks and money orders are used in scams such as mystery shopping. The shopper who is hired receives an assignment, then a check is forwarded to the shopper with instructions to deposit it in a personal account and wire it to someone else. Once the money is wired, the sender can disappear.
Also, people apply online and get hired as personal assistants. They receive a check and are asked to use the money to buy gift cards. Once the scammers receive the PINs on the card, they use them instantly.
The hired “personal assistant” is left without the money when the bank figures out the check is bad.
Other kinds of fraudulent check scams
- Claiming prizes in sweepstakes or other online games: “Winners” are issued checks and told to send money to cover taxes, shipping and handling charges or processing fees.
- Overpayments: Someone purchases something from you online “accidentally” sends a check for too much and asks you to refund the balance.
When buying online, be sure to research the seller by searching online for the person or company’s name, phone number and email address, plus words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” If everything checks out, pay by credit card as opposed to debit, and keep a record of your transaction.
Also be aware of receiving calls, emails or mail from individuals claiming there is a warrant for your arrest.
Steps to avoid fraudulent check scams
- Do not accept a check for a product or service for more than the selling price
- Ignore offers that ask you to pay for a prize. If it is free, you should never have to pay to receive your winnings.
- Never use money from a check to send gift cards or money orders
- Never wire money to strangers or someone you just met.
- If you wired money to a scammer, call the money transfer company right away to report it and file a complaint.
- If you paid with a money order, contact the company that issued it right away. You should also try to stop the delivery of the money order.
Residents can report these scams to:
VIPD Economic Crimes Unit at 340-774-3942, St. Thomas and 340-778-1001, St. Croix; V.I. Division of Licensing and Consumer Affairs (DLCA) at 340-713-3522 on St. Croix or 340-714-3522 on St. Thomas, or by email at [email protected]. For consumer-related issues call the DLCA at 340-727-SCAM (7226) on St. Croix or 340-771-SCAM (7226) on St. Thomas.
You may also contact www.ConsumerResources.org – the consumer-facing website of the National Association of Attorneys General.