We often write in this blog about the scams that criminals seem to favor at the time and describe defenses that targeted individuals or companies can use to thwart these scams. The most popular continues to be the broad category of advance fee scams. I thought it would be helpful to review two other types of financial scams that are not so frequent but that can result in large losses for victims.
Cashier's check fraud
A genuine cashier's check is a direct obligation of the bank that sells it. In a more innocent time, cashier's checks were viewed "as good as gold." Regulation CC generally requires a bank to make the funds of a deposited cashier's check available the next business day, but a fraudulent cashier's check could take several days or weeks to be returned to the bank of first deposit.
Criminals use this time gap to their advantage. In some cases, the check is for the exact amount of the item being purchased, and the criminal departs with the goods. For remote purchases, the criminal may send the seller a cashier's check for an amount in excess of the purchase price: $1,500 instead of $1,000, for example. Then the criminal claims the amount was a mistake and asks the seller to send the merchandise as well as refund the overpayment. When the fraudulent check is returned, the seller is out not only the merchandise but also cold hard cash.
Fraudulent cashier checks can be very difficult to spot given the advanced technology of printers and graphics software. Here is some fraud prevention advice:
- Accept a cashier's check only from someone you know or trust.
- Never accept a cashier's check with an amount higher than the purchase price.
- Consider using an escrow service instead of a cashier's check, where the goods are held by a trusted third party until the payment funds are fully verified.
- Be aware of the difference between when funds from a cashier's check become available versus when the check finally clears.
You can find more information about cashier's check fraud on the website of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
High-yield investment fraud
In this type of scam, a fictitious financial institution or company, often located outside the United States, offers a risk-free, guaranteed return on a savings or investment instrument that is substantially above the market rate. The scammer claims to be able to achieve these returns by using sophisticated trading techniques involving "prime bank" financial instruments in foreign markets. Often, there is a promise that the funds are insured by a country's financial oversight agency or by the World Bank, a claim supported by certificates that look legitimate.
These scammers target their victims through advertisements in national and financial publications. They may also solicit victims with executive phishing attacks that have obtained contact information of high-net-worth individuals. The criminals assert that the victim will be part of an exclusive group and therefore should not discuss the investment with others, sometimes even requesting execution of nondisclosure agreements.My prevention tip for this scam is to follow the old adage that "if it's too good to be true, it probably is."
If there are other financial scams that you think we should address, please let us know by leaving a comment.