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Scams target business with fake checks

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News of promising vaccine trials offers a glimmer of hope to struggling small businesses and families, indicating that we might soon see a return to relative normalcy.

As vaccine news begins to shape your 2021 business plan, BBB serving Greater Maryland warns that scammers are already finding ways to take advantage of the hopeful outlook. BBB predicts fake check overpayment scams could rise as small businesses and sole proprietors begin to book events for 2021.

Touring musicians, photographers, production crew, caterers and so many more events-based professionals have been without steady work for most of 2020. LiveDesign estimates a whopping 12 million people work in the industry, many of whom are employed by small businesses or run their own businesses.

With the end of the year quickly approaching and vaccine news increasing hopes that the events industry can get back to business, countless professionals will be looking to fill their calendars with events. However, some prospective clients are actually scammers hoping to make a quick buck off a struggling business.

Here’s how the scam works.

You’re approached by an individual who wants to hire your services for their event. When it comes time to pay your fee, they mail you a check for more than the balance you’re owed. They instruct you to keep your portion and transfer the rest back to them.

Alternatively, they may claim you’ll transfer the rest to the other service providers they’ve hired, but this is simply a cover story. In reality, they send you a bad check, and you transfer the extra funds directly to the scammer.

Victims of fake check scams end up spending the money credited to their account, only to later receive notice that the check has bounced.

Even a BBB team member encountered this scam when she received an inquiry from someone purportedly interested in her photography services. She received two checks in the mail for nearly $2,000 each and was told to keep her payment and transfer the remaining payment to another account, supposedly for the event planner.

Fortunately, her experience at BBB tipped her off to the scam, and she did not deposit the checks. Unfortunately, not everyone is as lucky, and fake check scams often cost victims thousands of dollars.

With few, if any, opportunities to work this year, events based businesses are looking toward 2021 with hope that their industry will make a comeback. Although most inquiries will come from clients ready to book you for their upcoming event, BBB advises events based professionals to beware of potential scammers.

BBB offers small businesses the following tips to protect themselves from fake check fraud:

  • Clients will not mistakenly overpay you. This is a significant warning sign that you’ve encountered a scammer.
  • Never transfer money to an unknown individual. If a prospective client asks you to do so, they’re most likely a scammer.
  • Cashier’s checks and money orders can be forged. Because cashier’s checks and money orders are guaranteed funds, you’re more likely to trust them. However, they are susceptible to forgery.
  • It takes time for banks to discover a bad check. In other words, you could deposit a check and receive credit for the amount deposited only to be notified later that it bounced and you owe the bank money.

If you encounter a scam, report it to BBB.org/ScamTracker and keep up with the latest news, alerts and business tips on BBB.org.

Angie Barnett is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland.

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