Fake checks are a huge tool for scammers.
Sometimes, a scammer will post a fake job. When the new employee accepts the position, the phony boss will send a check to cover expenses for training or supplies. The employee is directed to deposit the check, then wire a certain amount to the employer’s vendor. Several days later, the check bounces and the accountholder is on the hook for the money.
Fake checks are similarly used in sweepstakes scams. The “winner” is mailed a check to cover taxes or other fees. After money is wired out to cover those costs, the check bounces, and again, the accountholder is out the cash.
There are other schemes, too, and that’s what made Donna D’Amato nervous.
D’Amato serves as the treasurer for the Maplewood Committee for Servicemen and Servicewomen.
The nonprofit, which sends gift cards to Maplewoodians serving on active military duty, received two unexpected donation checks.
They were from a company called TRUiST, and they were for unusual amounts: $10.34 and $27.20.
Along with the checks came information on how to register with TRUiST to learn more about the checks.
It said a “Donor Recognition Report (DRR)” is available online, and to access it, D’Amato would have to create an account on its site.
“Once your account has been created, you will have access to your organization’s information at any time,” the letter said.
D’Amato was suspicious. Her organization had never received donations from the group before, and she didn’t want to log in on an unknown website and give information about her or her charity.
“I am hesitant to cash these, suspecting some sort of scam,” she said. “I went on the internet and they have sites, but these could be bogus. I would have to register and don’t wish to give any information to them without verifying their authenticity.”
We recommended she take the checks to Wells Fargo, the issuing bank, to see if it could verify the account on which the checks were written.
A Wells manager did verify the checks, but D’Amato still worried, so she visited a second branch. Employees there advised her not to cash the checks, she said.
“I also would not want to deposit the checks as that would necessitate adding our banking information to them,” D’Amato said. “We have never gotten anything like this in the past and in light of the (Equifax) nonsense, I’m more cautious than ever.”
With ID theft and other scams to steal private information rampant, D’Amato was smart to be concerned.
But in this case, she has nothing to worry about.
TRUiST is a brand of FrontStream, a legitimate company that offers services to charities and companies that want to engage in charitable giving.
It engineers many programs, including one that allows employees to donate to charities through payroll deduction.
That’s exactly where the checks for the Maplewood Committee for Servicemen and Servicewomen came from.
After leaving several unanswered messages for the company’s media contact, we got a little impatient, so we got our call into the hands of a customer service rep.
With the check number, the rep was able to explain everything.
The donation checks were for real.
The donor, we learned, is an employee of Macy’s and makes regular donations through payroll deductions. The donor also requested to remain anonymous.
As for the unusual amounts? That’s because Macy’s elected to have the 4 percent fee charged by TRUiST for its services deducted from the donated amount. Other companies may decide to pay the fees themselves, leaving the full amount donated to go to the charity.
The TRUiST rep said it has a large list of nonprofits that comes from IRS databases, and employees of companies who offer charitable payroll deductions can choose their charity. That’s how D’Amato’s group ended up receiving the donation.
So in this case, these checks were completely for real. But if you or your organization receives something fishy, do some homework before you make a deposit.
First, think about why you received the check. If it has something to do with a promise of a job, an inheritance, a prize win or other unexpected cause, be wary.
Try to learn what you can about the person or organization writing the check. If you’re not sure, contact the bank on which the check was written. It should be able to confirm if the account is real and whether or not the account has enough funds to cover the check.
If you decide to deposit the check, don’t take out any of the money. Give it more than a few days. Give it at least a week. Or wait even longer. Make sure the check doesn’t bounce, and remember that banks often release funds to you quickly, even if they haven’t received the funds from the issuing bank.
At least then, your only potential loss would be a bounced check fee instead of thousands of dollars.
It’s better to be safe than sorry, right?
D’Amato said she’s glad the checks were legit, and she gives her thanks to the anonymous donor.
To make a donation or to learn more about the Maplewood Committee for Servicemen and Servicewomen, email firstname.lastname@example.org or send a message to the group at Municipal Building, Maplewood, NJ 07040.