FF12: Why spotting a fake check may mostly be up to you

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) It sounded like a great deal.

"I got a text message one afternoon from someone that said that they were from Amp Energy and they wanted to know if I wanted to make 400 dollars a week driving my car around with a decal that said Amp Energy."

Sara O'Neal was sold.

She signed up, answered some questions about her vehicle and driving record and within a week or two, she had a check in the mail.

"It's got a little note in it telling me to deposit the money in my bank and keep my $400 for the first week and take the other $1,600 and it was for the guy who comes out to do the car, wrap the car." O'Neal said.

Though O'Neal was suspicious and didn't deposit the check, that scenario is becoming more common and often includes some story of why it makes sense.

For Alex Cook, it was an email she got after going on Care.com and looking for babysitting or dog sitting jobs.

"Me and this woman talked for probably two weeks. Like, her and her husband were coming over from Europe for a job. The dogs and all of their stuff were moving first and they were coming after," Cook said.

The woman told Cook she wanted her to take care of the dogs until she and her husband arrived and then come over several times a week after they arrived to help with the dogs.

"It was a few hundred dollars a week for that so, of course in my spare time, I'd love to do that, "Cook said. "That's when she sent me the check. She said hey, I'm going to be sending over a check. This is for pet supplies, everything that you're going to need."

Cook deposited the check for several thousand dollars into her bank account and soon got another email from the woman saying she found the pet supplies she wants and already ordered the supplies. All Cook needed to do was give the pet store the money.

"I put the money in that bank account and I was supposed to be getting a shipment. Well, then three days later the check bounced and I got a call from my bank and they were like hey, you have negative 1,500 dollars in your bank account. And I was like um, why did you give me the money first off?" Cook said.

The check was fake and now Cook was out more than $1,500. She said the check looked real. She even looked up the company the check appeared to come from.

"It was an actual business you could Google in California and she said that's where her husband's company was based out of," Cook said.

Cook never heard back from the woman after that and the bank she gave the money too said there was nothing they could do either.

Her bank set her up on a payment plan but the money was gone.

FactFinder 12 asked Karen Callaway with Meritrust Bank why Cook was able to get the money so quickly, even before the check cleared.

"That's a federal regulation that we have to release those funds. or at least a portion of the funds," Callaway said.

Callaway said at a minimum, checks take roughly four days to clear but they can take even longer depending on the situation. She said while tellers are trained to spot fake checks, scammers are getting better and it's sometimes difficult to tell what's real and what isn't.

"So there's really no good rule of thumb to tell somebody other than I would give it at least seven days and if I had any suspicion it was bad, I'd put it in a savings account and let it sit there until I felt comfortable," she said.

The Better Business Bureau did a study on fake checks and found the most common victim is someone in their 20's. The stories can vary as to why you're getting the check and who needs part of the money, but the instructions are often the same.

The BBB says there are some ways to spot a fake check. If the check is flimsy, it may be fake. If the bank or company it's from is misspelled or has nothing to do with your deal, it's likely fake. If the check number in the top right corner doesn't match the number in the bottom right corner, it's fake. You can also look up routing numbers online these days to check that out too.

The advice from those who have been through this? Use common sense.

"If it sounds too good to be true, it is," Cook said. "People aren't nice. I was naive and I should have, I should have waited for the money to I guess clear. I didn't know it wasn't cleared because they gave me the funds."