How to tell if a check is real or fake

Posted at 3:42 PM, Sep 29, 2015

I recently did a report on some class actions settlements that could bring you money such as a$25 refund from Starkist Tuna.

That one's very legit.

But how do you know if some other offers of money are real, or if you could be falling for a fake check scam?

We have important information on how to check out a check you received unexpectedly.

African Prince? Yeah, Sure.

By now everyone with a brain knows that a check in the mail from an African Prince, wanting to share his fortune, is fake.

But today's scammers are more sophisticated: many bogus checks you receive in the mail look real, right down to the signature and watermark.

Even many bank tellers may not spot the difference.

Their goal is for you to cash it, then send them something.  Two weeks letter their fake (but realistic looking) check will bounce.

Signs of a Fake Check

The Consumer Federation of America says watch for these signs an unexpected check is phony:

  • It's for only a partial payment (such as $2,000 of a $200,000 winning ticket). You have to send money to get the rest
  • It requires you to wire funds by Western Union, or to buy a Green Dot Prepaid Moneycard for any reason.
  • The company name on the check and company name on the envelope are different. (Why would a laundromat send you a sweepstakes winning? Because the laundromat's bank account number was hacked)

Signs of a Real Check

  • It's a settlement from a class action suit (and if you Google the company named in the suit, you will learn more about it.
  • It's from your mortgage or insurance company, for an overpayment you made.
  • It's for less than $100.  Scammers never bother to send you a phony check for $25, as it's not worth their time.
  • You are not required to do anything but cash it and enjoy your good fortune.  There is no follow up.

Doesn't that Stink?

But from the "doesn't that stink" file, fake checks that fool even savvy people.

The Consumer Federation says beware checks and letters showing legitimate logos like Walmart, Costco, and Best Buy.

They often claim you have been chosen to be a mystery shopper.  But no one will send you money in advance to do mystery shopping.

Fall for it and you'll say "doesn't that stink?"

Finally, if a check shows up unannounced in your mailbox, make sure there are no strings attached if you cash  it.

Sometimes cashing a check -- even a legitimate one -- means you agree to a subscription you may not want, so don't waste your money.


Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.

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