Attorney General Abbott Warns of Fake IRS Check Scam

The Office of the Attorney General has recently received complaints from Texans who were mailed high quality counterfeit U.S. Treasury checks by con artists. Under one variation of the scheme, checks were mailed with instructions telling recipients to cash them and wire part of the money abroad.

In a second version of the scheme, recipients are instructed to deposit the checks into their accounts and call for additional instruction. On the telephone, the con artists advise victims to wire 90 percent of the checks’ funds and keep 10 percent for themselves. Because the check is counterfeit, it transfers no funds. As a result, the recipient is out-of-pocket for any funds that were transferred, may be subject to bank fees and could even have to explain their actions to authorities.

Both are variations of a common scheme called advance-fee fraud, in which criminals use counterfeit cashier’s checks or other financial instruments to defraud their victims. These types of scams tend to change often, but some underlying characteristics are usually constant. The communications often:

• Contain grammar or spelling mistakes;
• Are mailed from Canada or other foreign countries;
• Instruct the recipient to wire funds, rather than mail them;
• Contain a threat of legal or monetary penalties if the letter is disregarded; and
• Demand urgent action.

Texans who receive tax-refund checks from the IRS should consider their situation. Have they filed their federal income taxes? Were they expecting a refund? Does the amount match that expectation? Were they expecting a check, or did they request direct deposit? Texans should be wary of any unexpected check they receive, especially if it comes from an unfamiliar person or organization.

Legitimate U.S. Treasury checks will always come in an envelope bearing a U.S. Treasury return address, will never be accompanied by a letter from anyone other than the U.S. Treasury, and will never instruct recipients to send a portion of the funds to anyone else. Both legitimate and counterfeit U.S. Treasury checks include warnings on the back that say, “WARNING: Do not cash check without noting watermark. Hold to light to verify watermark.” A watermark saying “U.S. Treasury” on a legitimate check is embedded in the paper stock and will only be visible by holding a check up to a light. However, con artists are constantly perfecting their trade and future versions may appear even more authentic. Texans who are suspicious of a check should disregard it or take it to local authorities for verification.

While many justifiably place great confidence in U.S. Treasury checks, some counterfeits are so convincing that even bank tellers have been fooled. Asking the bank for verification that a check is valid can help protect recipients, but if it ultimately proves to be fraudulent, recipients will not receive any proceeds. Banks and other financial institutions generally will not absorb the loss if Texans fall victim to this scam. In some cases, victims could even face criminal charges for inadvertently cashing counterfeit checks or money orders.

Texans who want more information about fraud or believe they have been targeted for this or other scams can contact the Office of the Attorney General at (800) 252-8011 or online at www.texasnattorneygeneral.gov.

Other Resources:

U.S. Postal Inspection Service
(877) 876-2455
https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre (PhoneBusters)
A partnership of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Ontario Provincial Police
(888) 495-8501
www.phonebusters.com

IRS Criminal Investigations Division
www.treas.gov/irs/ci

U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration
(800) 366-4484
www.treas.gov/tigta

FakeChecks.org
An educational Web site of the National Consumers League
www.fakechecks.org

General Abbott's signature
Greg Abbott
Attorney General of Texas

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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.

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