Tips for Consumers: Phony Travelers Checks & Gift Checks

Tips for Consumers
Phony Travelers Checks & Gift Checks

It shouldn't be news to consumers in the Hagerstown area that foreign crooks have flooded the mail and Internet with bogus claims that everyone has won a LOTTERY or contest. The BBB, law enforcement and all the TV, radio and newspaper news departments have done scores of warnings to beware of these crooks and their phony contests.
But unfortunately our phones ring off the desk every day with calls from excited folks who haven't heard the alerts and only see an "official notice" that they are winner of thousands of dollars in the USA Mega Direct, Australian, Spanish ("El Gordo"), Canadian, Costa Rican or almost any other lottery that the crooks can invent or exploit.
In the past, these phony notices have included realistic-looking counterfeit "certified" and "cashiers" checks. The crooks tell you that, to claim your big cash prize, you must first pay a few thousand dollars in taxes, duties or fees. But they send you a "certified check" in advance. They instruct you to deposit the check in your local bank, then in a few days withdraw the money (often around $3,000) and send it to the so-called "lotto" office in Canada or overseas. Sadly, victims fall for this line, withdraw and send the cash by Western Union or Money Gram, and then hear from their bank that the check was fake and they must pay thousands of dollars back to the bank.
Latest wrinkle in this fraud is the fact that the crooks have now started counterfeiting MasterCard, Travelex AAA Visa and American Express Travelers Checks and Gift Checks. The traveler's checks look very realistic, but if you are told to cash them and send back money to claim a prize, they are counterfeit!
The beauty of using traveler's checks is that banks are becoming alert to the bogus certified checks. But traveler's checks can be cashed at convenience stores, carry outs and even bars and restaurants. The gullible scam victims cash these realistic-looking checks, send the money away, and then may be sued by the carry out or restaurant which discovers that the checks are worthless. They may also prosecute!
Real contests never require you to pay money to claim your prize. If you receive traveler's checks to "cash," don't do it! Take them to your bank or AAA office to have them inspected first.

To file a complaint visit: or write: BBB, 1414 Key Highway, #100, Baltimore MD 21230. Their office serves Baltimore and all of Greater Maryland.