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How to spot if a check is fake

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Fake check scams are far more common than you may think. Scammers may target potential victims via both online channels and through the mail. According to the Federal Trade Commission, fake checks cheated the U.S. public out of $28 million in 2019 alone.

As technology becomes increasingly accessible, illegitimate checks are now more convincing than ever. Avoid the financial burden and stress a bounced check can cause with our handy tips.

Find out how to verify a check and be aware of common scams, as well as learning how banks weed out fake checks below.

What are the signs of a fake check?

Here are a few key things to look out for when trying to verify a check:

  • All the edges are smooth – most real checks have one rough or perforated edge.
  • No check number – all real checks have a check number at the top right-hand corner. Make sure that this number matches those at the far right of the MICR line, which is the long line of numbers at the bottom of the check.
  • No bank logo or one that is faint – fake checks either don’t include a logo or have one that is faded due to being printed from a computer.
  • Shiny, thin paper – authentic checks are usually printed on thick paper, while fakes can have a shiny appearance or thin feel.
  • Errors – spelling errors, smudges, and patchiness are all signs that the check could be fake. Make sure to check that the date on the check is correct, as well as the account details.

How to avoid fake checks

Avoid receiving a void check by being vigilant and doing the following:

  • Don’t send money to people you don’t know. Some scammers will pressure you into paying a supposed fee or purchasing gift cards in exchange for a bigger prize.
  • Do not cash a check from someone you do not know or have no legitimate reason to receive a check from.
  • Get in contact with the bank shown on the check to confirm if it is real or not.
  • Have a strict policy when accepting checks, especially if you manage or own a business. This could include only accepting checks from in-state banks as well as verifying the details and signature on the check with a photo.
  • Do not withdraw the money straight away. Scammers will often ask you to send the funds quickly, but this is to try and ensure the bank doesn’t realize the check is bad before they get the money.

How do banks verify checks?

If you’re concerned that you have a void check, you should call the bank it was issued from to verify its legitimacy. They’ll do so by checking the bank account details and funds available in the account of the payee, making sure there is enough to cover the amount listed on the check.

Make sure the number you call is official by checking the website, as fake checks often have false contact details on them. Do not attempt to cash the check until you’re certain it’s real. If you have already cashed it, do not attempt to withdraw money until the check has been verified, and notify your bank of your suspicions.

Common fake check scams

Unfortunately, there are many different check scams that you must watch out for. The most common types are:

  • Work from home – you’ll get some form of remote job opportunity, but must cash a check and wire it to the “company” for supplies.
  • Scholarship or grant – as the name suggests, you’ll be informed you’re entitled to a scholarship or government grant, but you must cash a check for taxes.
  • Lottery or prize – one of the most common scams is the lottery scam. You’ll likely be told you’ve won a foreign lottery or a prize and sent a check in the mail that they’ll request you wire back for funds and processing.
  • Mystery shopping – scammers will put out an advertisement looking for mystery shoppers. Once “hired,” you’ll be asked to deposit a check and either wire the money or buy gift cards with the cash, sending over the codes to the scammer.
  • Personal assistant – this involves being hired as a personal assistant, receiving a check in the mail and being asked to buy gift cards for a client. You’ll then send them the gift card codes.

With each of these scams, the person receiving the money will disappear with your cash before the bank realizes the check is bad, leaving you to pay it back.


What happens if you deposit a fake check without knowing it?

Once a bank realizes a check is fake — which can take a couple of weeks — you’ll be responsible for paying back the funds, plus any fees. If you knowingly deposited a fake check, you may be penalized, but this is unlikely if you are the victim of a scam.


Where do I report a bad check?

You should contact the bank on the check and inform them of the scam, as well as report it to the Federal Trade Commission. You can also file a police report.


Can you get hacked by depositing a check?

No, as a banking routing number isn’t enough information to access somebody’s account. This is why it’s important not to give out your bank account information to somebody you don’t know.

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