Beware: Unexpected checks could be scams

Kristi Cutts, Guest author

Have you ever received an unexpected check in the mail?

While your first thought may be to celebrate this surprise – think twice about that check. It could be a scam.

Mallory Knight / Advance-Titan

I recently worked with a UW Oshkosh college student who fell prey to an active fake check scam here on campus. He was sent a check for $1,500, which he placed in his account via mobile deposit. As soon as the funds were available, he sent some of the money back to the scammer. If it were not for a lock we placed on his account, this student could have been out the full $1,500 – because, of course, the check he was sent was no good.

Bad check scams are an attempt to steal money by asking for a portion of what victims may otherwise view as a gift. The scam takes advantage of a law that requires institutions to make funds available quickly. As soon as those funds are available in an account, the institution may say that the check has “cleared,” but that does not always mean that the check is good. In fact, fake checks can take weeks to be discovered, according to the Federal Trade Commission. By then, the scammer has already gotten away with the victim’s money, leaving the victim holding the bag.

Scammers often prey on college students, who they see as uninformed on issues related to finances. Here are three situations that should put you on high alert.

1) Someone you do not know wants to send you money. If anyone reaches out to you on social media wanting to send you money, or requests your personal information, that is a red flag.

2) Someone asks for money. Sometimes scammers will try to scare victims by posing as an authority figure, such as a government official. If anyone directly asks for money in exchange for solving a problem, that should give you pause.
3) Someone needs access to your account. If anybody contacts you claiming to represent a financial institution and wants access to your account, it is almost always a scam.

UW Credit Union will never call you to ask for a security code that you received via text message. When in doubt, hang up and call us directly at 800-533-6773.

Note: Financial Corner is a direct response to student requests for more information on navigating money matters. The tips are provided by Kristi Cutts, branch manager of UW Credit Union’s UW Oshkosh branch.