Check in the Mail? It's Probably a Scam

After an eight-month investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has arrested 77 people and confiscated $2.1 billion worth of counterfeit checks that were bound for the United States. It's all part of a crackdown on a scam that after cropping up a few years ago now has countless variations.

It's called the "check overpayment scam" and it's typically perpetrated by people in other countries with animosity toward Americans.

It usually happens if you are selling something online, like a car. A stranger will make you a very generous offer. Then the person sends you a cashier's check or money order for way more than the agreed-upon price and makes some excuse about why you should wire the difference back. Often the stranger says the extra is for shipping.

Because your bank then cashes the check and hands you the money, it all seems incredibly legit. Reassured, you send the crook the difference he requested and don't find out until later that the cashier's check was a fake.

Even though your bank cashed the check, you are held responsible for checks you deposit. The average victim loses close to $5,000 on such schemes.

There are several other variations. In one, the scammers respond to a personal ad and pretend to be a love interest. Eventually they ask the victim to cash a check and send them part of it to cover the expense of coming to visit. Of course, the check is a fake.

In another, scammers offer "check processing jobs" to people who have posted resumes online. They ask the victims to deposit the checks, take a cut for themselves and forward the rest of the money. Once again, the check or money order is bogus and you lose.

So beware — when you place any kind of ad online, use caution if you receive correspondence from foreign countries.

And if somebody overpays you and asks you to wire money back, it's a scam. Period.