Check Scam Hits St. John Mailboxes, Luring Residents with Cashier’s Check

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Emmons was tempted by this check with his name on it, but wisely reported the fraud instead of cashing it.

A St. John resident opened his mail on Saturday, May 22, and found a $950 check with his name on it.

“I thought, ‘this has to be too good to be true,’” said Gary Emmons.

Turns out the Estate Bordeaux resident was right. The check he received in his mailbox was one of the latest scams targeting residents across the country.

Arriving in an envelope with a Canadian return address and Canadian postage, the cashier’s check featured the bank name Space Coast Credit Union of Melbourne, Florida, and was issued by Integrated Payment Systems Inc. of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The signed check was dated May 15 and signed by an authorized signature which appears to spell “Margaret Snyder.” The envelope also contained a letter from Crenshaw Research of New York City explaining that the recipient of the letter was selected to be a secret shopper.

“As one of the people selected to represent our firm, you will be acting as a Customer Service Evaluator of selected companies in your area,” according to the letter. “This campaign is an excellent opportunity for you to earn hundreds of dollars weekly.”

The first assignment for the secret shopper is to evaluate the efficiency of Moneygram, for which the recipient is promised a $150 flat fee, according to the letter.

In order to start the project, however, the recipient is informed that they must first contact Crenshaw Research in order to remove the temporary hold on the cashier’s check. They then must cash the check at their local bank, keep only the $150 and send the rest back using Moneygram, which is how the scam works.

Just because a check is deposited does not mean that check is good, even if it is a cashier’s check. While banks are required to make deposited funds available quickly, usually within one to five days, it could take much longer for the fraud to be determined — by which time the consumer is out.

“Under federal law, banks must make funds available to you from U.S. Treasury checks, official bank checks (cashier’s checks, certified checks, and teller’s checks), and checks paid by government agencies at the opening of business the day after you deposit the check,” according to the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer protection website. “However, just because funds are available on a check you’ve deposited doesn’t mean the check is good.”

“It’s best not to rely on money from any type of check (cashier, business or personal check, or money order) unless you know and trust the person you’re dealing with or, better yet — until the bank confirms that the check has cleared,” according to the website. “Forgeries can take weeks to be discovered and untangled. The bottom line is that until the bank confirms that the funds from the check have been deposited into your account, you are responsible for any funds you withdraw against that check.”

So if Emmons had deposited the check and sent $800 back to Crenshaw Research, he would have been out the entire $950 for the deposit as well as the $800 he sent back to the company.

The secret shopper scam is one type of fraud which uses fake checks to lure potential victims. Similar scams include foreign lottery, internet auction and check overpayment scams.

“In secret shopper scams, the consumer, hired to be a secret shopper, is asked to evaluate the effectiveness of a money transfer service,” according to Federal Trade Commission’s consumer protection website. “The consumer is given a check, told to deposit it in their bank account, and withdraw the amount in cash. Then, the consumer is told to take the cash to the money transfer service specified, and typically, send the transfer to a person in a Canadian city.’

“Then, the consumer is supposed to evaluate their experience — but no one collects the evaluation,” according to the website. “The secret shopper scenario is just a scam to get the consumer’s money.”

The scam is difficult to track, according to FTC’s website.

“Con artists who use these schemes can easily avoid detection,” according to the website. “When funds are sent through wire transfer services, the recipients can pick up the money at other locations within the same country; it is nearly impossible for the sender to identify or locate the recipient.”

In order to avoid check scams, consumers are urged to never wire money to strangers and only accept checks from known banks and from known people. Emmon’s secret shopper offer also included a plea to act quickly due to the time sensitive nature of the request, which is a sign the deal is a fake, according to FTC.

“If the buyer insists that you wire back funds, end the transaction immediately,” according to FTC. “Legitimate buyers don’t pressure you to send money by wire transfer services. In addition, you have little recourse if there’s a problem with a wire transaction. Know who you’re dealing with, and never wire money to strangers.”

Emmons hoped that by sharing his story with the community he could save someone from becoming a fraud victim, he explained.

“In today’s world with a lot of people struggling financially, this could be very tempting,” said Emmons. “I just wanted to get the word out as quickly as I could to stop this scam and hopefully no one will fall for it.”

If anyone believes they are a victim of a scam, contact FTC at ftc.gov or call 1-877-382-4357.