U.S. Virgin Islands – Attorney General Denise George continues to alert residents of scams circulating in our community utilizing fraudulent checks and money orders. The Virgin Island Police Department’s Economic Crime Unit in St. Thomas and St. Croix have reported an increase in counterfeit checks and money order cases in the last several months.

Fraudulent Check/ Money order scams
This scam in general sends the victim counterfeit checks or money orders. The victim is instructed to deposit the item into their bank account, then purchase gift cards and call a number to give the activation information. The victim is promised some of the money that was deposited. The victim then deposits the counterfeit item, uses their own money, buys the gift cards, and calls the number with the information. The gift cards are redeemed then the phone number is disconnected. The victim’s bank then calls and informsthe victim that the counterfeit item bounced, therefore resulting in a loss of funds. There are various variations of this scam, but this is the outcome. It could take a week or several months to discover that the check or money order is counterfeit.

Dept. of Justice Assistant Attorney General, Sigrid M. Tejo stated “Last year there were only a few reported cases. So far this year there have been over a dozen. These are difficult cases to investigate as the counterfeit items usually come from a mailbox that is not traceable. We have worked with the US Postal Service to help track the mail envelopes. The second obstacle is the phone number that is used to obtain the information from the victim uses several servers and satellites making it even impossible for the FBI to track”.

Who are the scammers?

Fraudulent checks and money orders are used in scams such as mystery shopping. The shopper who is hired receives an assignment, then a check is forwarded to the shopper with instructions to deposit it in a personal account and wire it to someone else. Once the money is wired, the sender can disappear. Also, people apply online and get hired as personal assistants. They receive a check and are asked to use the money to buy gift cards. Once the scammers receive the PINs on the card, they used them instantly. The hired ‘personal assistant’ is left without the money when the bank figures out the check is bad.

Other kinds of fraudulent check scams

• Claiming prizes in sweepstakes or other online games: “Winners” are issued checks and told to send money to cover taxes, shipping and handling charges, or processing fees.

• Overpayments: someone purchases something from you online “accidentally” sends a check for too much and asks you to refund the balance.

When buying online, be sure to research the seller by searching online for the person or company’s name, phone number, and email address, plus words like “review,” “complaint,” or “scam.” If everything checks out, pay by credit card as opposed to debit, and keep a record of your transaction.

Also be aware of receiving calls, emails, or mail from individuals claiming there is a warrant for your arrest.

Steps to avoid fraudulent check scams

• Do not accept a check for a product or service for more than the selling price
• Ignore offers that ask you to pay for a prize. If it is free, you should never have to pay to receive your win
• Never use money from a check to send gift cards or money orders
• Never wire money to strangers or someone you just met

If you wired money to a scammer

• Call the money transfer company right away to report it and file a complaint.
• If you paid with a money order, contact the company that issued it right away. You should also try to stop the delivery of the money order.

You can report these scams to: VIPD Economic Crimes Unit (340) 774-3942, St. Thomas or (340) 778-1001, St. Croix V.I. Division of Licensing and Consumer Affairs (DLCA) at 340-713-3522 on St. Croix or 340-714-3522 on St. Thomas, or by email at consumerawareness@dlca.vi.gov.

For consumer-related issues call the DLCA (340) 727-SCAM (7226), St. Croix or (340) 771-SCAM (7226), St. Thomas. Log on to: ConsumerResources.org, the consumer-facing website of the National Association of Attorneys General for more information.

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