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Attorney General Launches Anti-Fraud Program

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli recently announced a new and innovative consumer education program to protect consumers and financial institutions from fake check scams.  Partners include Consumer Service Commissioner Matthew Lohr, the Virginia Credit Union League, the Virginia Bankers Association and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA).

Sixty one banks and credit unions are participating and will hand out a brochure created by the CFA about fake check scams and similar frauds to every person who comes in to deposit or withdraw $1,000 or more.

In fake check scams, a consumer receives a genuine looking check or money order for something and is asked to wire money somewhere in return.  For instance, the check may be described as an “advance” on millions of dollars that the consumer has won in a sweepstakes or lottery.  Other times, people are asked to process payments for a company and are instructed to send money somewhere as part of a job.  No matter the circumstance, the check or money order is always phony and when it bounces, the victim owes the money back to the financial institution where it was deposited or cashed.  The average loss is $3,500.

“Virginians need to be on guard against fake check scammers,” Cuccinelli said.  “One of the best ways to avoid being victimized is to recognize the warning signs of these scams.  The most glaring sign is if the person or organization sending you the check asks you to wire back part of the money.  If this is the case, it is a scam.”

Federal law gives consumers the right to access their funds quickly, usually within a day or two.  But the bank can’t tell if the check or money order is phony until it goes through the system to the person or company that supposedly issued it.  That can take weeks and the victim is on the hook for the money once it bounces.

Lohr said, “In tough economic times such as these, con artists take advantage of vulnerable consumers by offering them bogus work-at-home opportunities, government grants, and other enticements designed to lure them into depositing these checks.  By the time the victim learns that the checks are phony, the money is gone.”

The brochure is entitled “Don’t Become a Target” and is distributed free of charge.  It is printed in English and Spanish and an electronic version is available in both languages as well.  Visit the CFA’s website at www.consumerfed.org/fakecheckscams for your copy.  The website also offers a PowerPoint presentation for consumers and other educational materials about fake check scams.

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