There are two great articles in the Chicago Tribune about check related scams. The first article provides some background and history on check washing and certified check overpayment scams.
The second article talks about the writer's personal experience as a victim of check washing. The main point of both of these articles is that thieves are getting back to the basics. Even the most savvy and intelligent individuals may find themselves the victims of check related schemes.
One of my friends almost fell for the bonus check/overpayment scheme a few months ago when he tried to sell his car on Craigslist. The buyer wanted to purchase the car sight unseen (major red flag) and offered to send him a certified check for $5,000. He asked my friend to deduct the cost of the car plus shipping and then wire the rest of the money back to him. Thankfully, my friend sent an email to me and to another attorney friend, asking if we thought it the buyer's request was legit. The sad thing was that the other attorney said he couldn't see anything wrong with the request. My friend was pretty upset when I told him that it's a pretty well-known scam. In the end, he managed to sell his car to a local buyer for list price. But you can be sure that my friend asked for payment in cold, hard cash.
Here are some lessons learned...
1. If you still write checks, buy a solvent resistant pen such as the Uni-ball 207. It's a $1.99 at Walgreens.
2. If you need to send a check, take it to the post office or drop it in a secure, USPS mailbox. Never send it from your home. That little red flag on your mailbox has the unintended effect of alerting thieves as well as your mail carrier.
3. If asks you to cash a check (even if it's a certified check) and then wire money back, DO NOT do it. You could be on the hook for criminal and civil penalties for passing a fraudulent check.