CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A local contractor is warning other small businesses to be on high alert after he almost fell victim to what’s known as a “check swapping scam.”
Steve Webster, the owner of “Fresh Start Painting,” said he received an email from a potential customer, inquiring about a paint job for their home. The person sent pictures of the home, an address, and even communicated with Webster on the phone before sending him a deposit.
Days later, Webster received a check for $6,875, about $2,000 more than what was required. The person on the other side asked Webster to send the ‘extra’ money back to him.
“So, he wanted me to write him a check…or maybe wire him. He wanted me to send him money he overpaid,” Webster said. “I called the bank to verify if this was real and they said ‘give me the check number.'”
The bank, a small credit union in New York, revealed the check was fraudulent and said there was no way to track the check or the person who sent it. The bank also added that most people fall for the scam without first verifying the check — meaning Webster was lucky.
“It has to be working otherwise they wouldn’t keep doing it,” Webster said. “Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself.”
According to the Federal Trade Commission, it received 39,113 reports of fake checks or foreign money offers with losses of over $78.1 million overall in 2021. This is an increase from the year before.
“These scams work because fake checks generally look just like real checks, even to bank employees,” the FTC reports. “They are often printed with the names and addresses of legitimate financial institutions. They may even be real checks written on bank accounts that belong to someone whose identity has been stolen. It can take weeks for a bank to figure out that the check is a fake.”
The agency adds that fake checks can take weeks to be discovered and untangled. By that time, the scammer has any money you sent, and you’re stuck paying the money back to the bank.
To avoid becoming a scam victim, never use money from a check to send gift cards, money orders, cryptocurrency or to wire money to anyone who asks you. Toss offers that ask you to pay for a prize, and don’t accept a check for more than the selling price.
If you think you’ve been targeted by a fake check scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and your state Attorney General