NEWARK – Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, and the New Jersey Department of the Treasury today are warning consumers about fake checks, which are highly detailed and realistic, and purport to be cashier’s checks for $3,800, issued by the New Jersey State Treasury.
“We are seeing with more and more frequency that technology makes it easier than ever for con artists to create phony legal documents, checks, and even websites that mimic those of government entities or businesses,” Chiesa said. “Consumers should stop and verify the truth of any communication that asks them to send money, or their bank account or other sensitive information, to a third party.”
At least one consumer as far away as Ohio has received the fraudulent check in the mail from a con artist. It included a letter that stated the check was being sent for a “Mystery Shopper assignment.” The letter instructed the consumer to deposit the check, keep $200, and use the balance to send wire transfers via two separate Western Union locations – supposedly to evaluate the Western Union services.
“This fake check, purporting to be from the State Treasury, is a new twist on what is known as the ‘cashier’s check scam,’” Eric T. Kanefsky, Acting Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, said. “This is the latest example of an emerging trend in which con artists send out official-looking documents, falsely using the names of government agencies, to fool victims. Consumers need to be suspicious of any letter or email that says they’ve won a prize or legal settlement, or offers them free money.”
State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff said, “Criminals who would cheat the most vulnerable people in society with such a heartless scam are beneath contempt. Consumers should have absolutely no doubt that this check, and any similar communication purporting to come from the State of New Jersey, is a fraud. Anyone who receives an offer of money that claims to be from a government agency, should call that agency directly, and independently verify whether the check or letter is real.”
In the “cashier’s check scam,” con artists will spin an elaborate story to convince the victim to deposit a fake cashier’s check into his or her own personal bank account, then write a separate check to the scammer – or wire money to the scammer. The fake cashier’s check will look realistic enough to fool the teller at the victim’s bank, when he or she attempts to make the deposit. Although the teller will give the victim a receipt, the fact is that, once the bank determines the check is a fake, no money is actually deposited into the victim’s account – and so the victim loses whatever money he or she sends to the scammer.
The “State Treasurer Impostor Scam” comes on the heels of another scam, discovered last month, in which con artists sent out a realistic but fake “legal document” purporting to be from the New Jersey Attorney General. That 11-page letter bore the logo and letterhead of the Attorney General’s Office, and invited consumers to apply for their share of the proceeds from a fictitious multimillion-dollar legal settlement.
The fraudulent letter included phone numbers and an email address, which apparently were manned by perpetrators of the scam. When a Division of Consumer Affairs investigator called one of the numbers, it was answered by a man with a strong foreign accent who falsely claimed to be working for the New Jersey Attorney General.
In February 2012, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission warned investors of similar scams, in which “fraudsters posing as SEC employees” called victims over the phone, and offered large sums of money if the victims would transfer smaller amounts of money into a specific account.
Kanefsky noted that each of these “government impostor scams” includes information that at first appears to be official and accurate, but does not hold up under closer scrutiny. Consumers should protect themselves by independently verifying the accuracy of any letter or email that purports to be from a government agency and says the recipient is entitled to a large payment. Consumers are advised not to call any numbers that may be on the communication itself, but to find the agency’s contact information separately, such as via the agency’s website, and call to learn whether the letter is real.
Chiesa and Kanefsky urge anyone who receives a similar document by letter or email, to call the Division of Consumer Affairs’ Consumer Service Center Hotline at 1-800-242-5846 (toll-free in New Jersey) or 1-973-504-6200.
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