Database helps consumers identify counterfeit checks

Counterfeit and phony checks are a bane to consumers and businesses alike. But one state has come up with a way to keep folks informed about these attempts to rip off people and stores.

The New Mexico Attorney General's Office created a database to help consumers identify counterfeit checks they received in the mail and keep them from falling for a scam.

Consumers send in the fake checks, the attorney general's office scans them and then posts them online. Consumers can then search for these checks by date, bank, routing number, check type, account name, scam type and company. They can see if a check they've received is similar to or exactly like one in the database. So far, the database has recorded more than 130 counterfeit checks.

"I think it's pretty neat for people to see what's floating around," Lynn Southard, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, told Consumer Ally. "They take theirs and can compare it those [in database]."

Most of the fake checks Southard's office sees involves fake lottery or sweepstakes winnings. The person receiving the check is usually instructed to cash the check and wire a portion back to the sender to cover fees or taxes. Southard also sees many overpayment scams, which target individuals who have posted ads online. The scammer offers to buy the item being sold but makes a check out for more than the purchase amount. The seller is then asked to wire the difference after cashing the check.

The checks appear to be real, but Southard said it takes a trained eye to tell the difference. She warns consumers not to cash a check received in the mail or by e-mail.

"Just because the bank releases the money to you doesn't mean the check is good," she said. "We have seen numerous people who relied on the bank, only to find out that they had to pay that money back."
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