Fake Check Scam Hits Charities
In a new twist of the foreign counterfeit check scam (see attached), my office has received reports that Texas charities are now a possible target.
We were recently contacted by a Central Texas nonprofit that unexpectedly received what appeared to be three legitimate U.S. Postal money orders totaling $2,700. No explanation was given as to who had sent them or why. These arrived in an envelope bearing several Nigerian postage stamps. Even more puzzling, the check writer’s return address handwritten on the money orders was in Memphis, Tennessee.
A representative of the organization became suspicious about why a mysterious benefactor from Africa would send such a generous gift to a small Central Texas charity. Fortunately, she did not deposit the money orders. Instead, she got in touch with my office and we were able to confirm that the checks were counterfeit. (See attached for samples of the counterfeit checks.)
While in this case the organization avoided being victimized by an apparent fraud, it is very likely that other institutions are being targeted. As with the version of this scam that focuses on individual consumers selling big ticket items online, my office suspects that now the scam artists are trying to defraud charities by urging them to deposit the checks and wire part of that money abroad.
After depositing these amounts, the organizations will likely be contacted by someone claiming that there was an “error” in the amount of the donation or provide some other reason as to why the charity is getting a bigger gift than what was intended. The scammer will then ask the group to wire part of the money back and keep the “intended” amount. While banks will typically credit the charity’s account soon after the deposit is made, it might be days before it is discovered that the checks or money orders are fakes. By that point the money has been wired abroad by the charity with no hope of recovery.
Whether you are a private seller, a business, or part of a charitable organization, beware of anyone who sends you large money orders from abroad and insists you wire part of the money back. They might have a reasonable explanation, but their true intent is to take your money and disappear.
If you are suspicious about the authenticity of a U.S. Postal money order, contact your local post office. (See attached documentation to learn more information on how to spot fakes.)
ABOUT CONSUMER ALERTS - The Office of the Attorney General accepts consumer complaints about businesses. When a pattern of complaints warrants intervention, the Attorney General can file a civil lawsuit under consumer protection statutes, sometimes with the result that a company is required to pay restitution to consumers -- see our Major Lawsuits page. However, when a consumer is swindled by a con artist, filing a complaint cannot help. Civil litigation can sometimes put a very unscrupulous business out of action, but often cannot produce restitution.
Individual con artists generally fall under the jurisdiction of a criminal prosecutor -- in Texas, this is the district or county attorney. But even when they are charged and convicted, these individuals usually have spent the money as fast as they have stolen it. A person who is the victim of fraud should report the incident to the police or sheriff. But by far the best thing is for consumers to be aware of fraud, so they are not swindled in the first place. For this reason, the Office of the Attorney General posts these Consumer Alerts about possible scams and schemes that come to our attention through citizen contacts to our office or other sources.