Scam using convincing checks could cost hundreds of dollars

Police, experts warn of fraudulent checks, consequences of depositing them

By Tommy Lopez - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - There's a warning Monday about scams that are targeting people in Roanoke. There are reports across Virginia of people receiving a fraudulent check in the mail with instructions to buy gift cards.

A Roanoke man, Frank Spencer, got a check in the mail for nearly $2,000 from a real bank in Texas made out in his name. It came with directions to be a “mystery shopper,” which said he would be checking for customer satisfaction at a store by buying $1,600 worth of Walmart gift cards and reporting information back to the sender, which didn’t list a company name.

"This looks like a real check," Spencer said. “This was different. This is something people need to know about."

It appeared he would make about $300 if he completed the task. He didn’t fall for the scam, and instead reported the letter to Roanoke police, who said they consistently get calls about fraudulent checks.

Julie Wheeler, with the Better Business Bureau, said the BBB gets 20-30 calls per week about scams like this one. She warned that even if people are able to deposit the check the bank will figure out that it’s fraudulent and then that person will owe the bank for the amount on the check.

She said people shouldn't ever buy gift cards if they're giving away the card information.

“We can't get the word out there enough because people think, 'Oh I just got this check. I just hit the lottery,'" she said.

The proposition can seem intriguing.

"I just deposit this and send it right? Then they're going to send me my million dollars? Wrong,” Wheeler said. “The check is fraudulent. The bank is going to come back and tell you to deposit that money that you just sent off to who knows who."

Roanoke police said they're not sure how scammers decide who to target. Senior citizens used to be the main victims of scams like these but Wheeler said now there are different demographics in the cross hairs. She said scammers often target people who are looking at job websites trying to find second jobs for extra income.

Wheeler said some Roanoke businesses have fallen victim to identity theft when scammers have gotten their banking information and sent out scam checks in their name. That caused them the headache of changing their banking information.

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