NEWTOWN, Ohio -- Scammers are targeting us every day, hoping to trick us into sending them money. They're targeting moms, college students, grandparents, and even police chiefs.
No one is immune.
Thomas Synan is not a typical scam target. He's the police chief of the village of Newtown, Ohio. But the other day, he said, "I got a strange envelope through two-day Priority Mail."
Inside was a cashier's check for $1,800.
"I opened it up to see what appears to be a legitimate check," the chief said.
The printing was perfect, right down to the watermarks on back. But he suspected a scam right away.
"I had no anticipation of getting any money, which was a red flag to me," Synan said.
What to do, not to do, if you get unexpected money
The chief knew better than to deposit that check in to his bank account, potentially exposing his account numbers to a thief, or ending up with a fraudulent check bouncing his account.
If money is tight, however, many people take that check to the bank right away, figuring it was a class action award, sweepstakes win or unclaimed funds payout.
Chief Synan said he's heard from scam victims in his community who fell for one of these fake check scams.
In every case, he said, they lost hundreds of dollars after cashing what turned out to be a fraudulent check. That's because the sender always follows up with some reason you have to send some of it back to him.
"What they might be wanting you to do is deposit this check and do other things, like you deposit this check and send up X amount of dollars back," Synan said.
What the scammer wants
Sometimes they want you to wire the money via Western Union (which is untraceable), or buy gift cards and read them the number on the back (even more untraceable).
Another version tells you the check is a payment to be a mystery shopper. But what company pays you before you do any work?
In every case, the check bounced in a week or two, leaving the victim with no "winnings," but out $400 or more that they sent to the scammer.
He says if you receive an unexpected windfall call the company whose name is on the check.
"If it is a legitimate business, it will be on Google, it will have a Twitter page, a Facebook page, stuff connected to it," the chief said.
A quick call will let you know if it is a legitimate payment. Chances are the company won't even know their name was used on a check.
It's important to note the chief did not fall for the scam.
But thousands of Americans do every year, cashing a bad check, sending some of that cash back to the scammer, then ending up in the hole when the check bounces a week or two later
The chief said no one gets free money, not even him.
"A lot of people may think you are a nice guy," he explained, "and I am a very nice guy, but in the end they are not giving you free money."
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