Sheriff’s Office warns against phony cashier’s checks, money orders

The Blount County Sheriff’s office is warning citizens about accepting cashier’s checks and money orders from unknown or questionable sources, especially when selling an item on an Internet Web site.

The Sheriff’s Office H.E.A.T. (High Tech Evidence and Technology) Unit is seeing a surge locally in these types of complaints. One of the more common scams currently being reported is the counterfeit cashier’s check scam, which is often committed in conjunction with buying and selling of goods over the Internet.

This is how it works: the buyer sends the seller what appears to be an authentic cashier’s check, often for an amount over and above the selling price. The buyer asks the seller to deposit the check and wire the “excess” funds back to them so they can pay shipping costs through a third party. The victim feels comfortable doing this because banks and consumers treat cashier’s checks like cash, without waiting for the check to clear the bank before using the funds.

Just because the bank releases the funds before the check clears doesn’t mean that the check is authentic. By the time the bank determines the check is counterfeit, which often takes several weeks, the victim has already wired the money to the scammer.

Anyone who receives a cashier’s check or money order under these circumstances needs to remember banks will hold them accountable for the money if the check turns out to be a fraud.

The following are a few suggestions from the Sheriff’s Office H.E.A.T. Unit to prevent being scammed:

There is no reason that a legitimate buyer would ask someone to wire money back to them. This is a red flag.

If the buyer says that it is urgent someone wire them money, it may be a scam. Analyze the situation and verify the authenticity of the check. Urgency is a red flag.

Individuals can verify the cashier’s check or money order is real by contacting the financial institution on which the check is drawn. Do not rely on information printed on the check. There may be a toll free number on the check using legitimate bank logos for the purpose of verifying the check. Locate the bank’s telephone number from a reliable source.

Protect your computer with anti-virus software and a firewall. Keep them up to date.

If anyone feels they have been scammed, there are several resources consumers can go to make a complaint:

n Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3): www.ic3.gov. This is a centralized complaint center for all federal Internet related criminal complaints, including fraud, computer intrusions, and crimes against children. These complaints are forwarded to the appropriate local, state, or federal agency for action.

Opt Out: 1-888-5-OPTOUT. The credit bureaus offer a toll-free number that enables consumers to opt out of pre-approved credit offers, for a period of two years.

Anyone with questions regarding these type schemes can contact the Sheriff’s Office H.E.A.T. Unit at 865-273-5000 or by e-mail at heat@bcso.com.

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