BBB of Central New England, Inc. is warning of a fake check scam fraudulently using the name of Vision Advertising, a BBB Accredited Business. BBB has heard from consumers across the U.S. who have received a "secret shopper" job opportunity supposedly from Vision Advertising and a check in the amount of $3,895. The letter informs the recipient that they have been selected to be a Consumer Service Evaluator of selected retail stores and restaurants. The first assignment is to deposit the check, wait two days, withdraw the funds, then pose as a Money Gram/Western Union customer to wire the funds to a "training agent," evaluating the local wire transfer facility. Vision Advertising is not involved in mystery shopping or lottery/prize promotions.
Fake check scams take many forms: a check is sent to a consumer with an explanation that the funds are for lottery winnings, a prize promotion, mystery shopping, etc., and include a reason for the victim to deposit the check then return a portion or all of the funds to the sender. The common thread is that the checks are fake, which often is not discovered until well after the funds have initially been distributed to the victim's bank account and wired to the scammer. At that point, the victim is responsible for the funds withdrawn from his or her account. Many people misunderstand the availability of the funds in their account to mean the check is legitimate, but this is not the case. It can take several weeks for the funds to be "finally collected," but the bank must make the funds "available" to the consumer within days.
BBB offer tips to evaluate the legitimacy of unexpected checks from unknown parties:
- Independently verify that the check is drawn from an actual account at a legitimate financial institution. Do not rely on the telephone number listed on the check or in a letter. Use directory assistance to get the telephone number of the financial institution and call them to verify the check.
- Do not rely on the money until the funds have been finally collected by your financial institution. Funds "availability" is not good enough.
- The National Consumers League has developed a website to help individuals who may be tempted to deposit one of these checks investigate the offer: www.fakechecks.org
BBB urges anyone who has been victimized by a phony check drawn on a federally insured financial institution to contact the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation at 877-275-3342. If the check is drawn on a foreign bank, contact the U.S. Secret Service at 202-406-5572 or at www.secretservice.gov. Massachusetts consumers can also seek help through the Attorney General's Consumer Complaint hotline at 617-727-8400.