The Attorney General provides Consumer Alerts to inform the public of unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices, and to provide information and guidance on other issues of concern. Consumer Alerts are not legal advice, legal authority, or a binding legal opinion from the Department of Attorney General.
A Job Offer Too Good to be True—Widespread Counterfeit Check Scam Seeks “Charitable Donations Coordinators”
Searching for a job is a difficult and time-consuming task. A very popular way for Michigan consumers to search for jobs is through the use of job search websites, such as CareerBuilder.com, Monster.com, and HotJobs.com, among others. Consumers post their resumes on these sites hoping that employers will offer them the job of their dreams. Unfortunately, there are scammers capitalizing on the popularity of these job search sites to find their next victim. A recent, elaborate counterfeit check scam seeking “charitable donations coordinators” that leaves victims with empty bank accounts is described in this Consumer Alert.
How the Scam Works
A consumer posts a resume on a job search website and soon receives an email that is carefully crafted to look like a genuine job offer – but in reality, it is a trap designed to snare victims for an international counterfeit check ring.
The email bears the logo of the job search website and claims to originate from a global charity that has helped provide housing for thousands of people worldwide. The message provides a link to a website full of pictures, testimonials, and stories of good works and states the “charity” is looking for “local charitable donations coordinators” to process charitable contributions from donors in their area. The job applicants are promised a return of 5% to 7% of all donation checks they receive to “process” on behalf of the charity. The email even includes tax and salary information.
But why would an international charity give away money to local coordinators instead of accepting the checks directly?
This “job” sounds too good to be true.
This new – and very sophisticated – counterfeit check scam has lured many innocent, well-meaning consumers to disburse money out of their personal bank accounts not to charity but to criminals. Victims who respond to the email are instructed that they should deposit donation checks they will receive from the “charity” and forward the proceeds from their personal bank account to the organization via Western Union after deducting their “commission.” When the victim receives the check, the charity warns that “time is of the essence” and urges the victim not to delay in forwarding the money in order to allow innocent and needy people immediate access to the charity’s valuable assistance.
But there’s a catch – the scammers are banking on the delay between the time the victim deposits the bogus check and the notification to the victim’s bank that the check is bad. In the meantime, the victim, believing the check to be valid, forwards the donation to the charity from his or her own account. After a few days or even weeks, the victim learns that the check was counterfeit. The victim is charged overdraft fees for excess withdrawals and may wind up several thousands of dollars in debt for performing “charitable” services. Some victims may even be charged criminally if law enforcement officials believe they were involved in the counterfeit check scam.
Although the fictitious charity names used by these scammers changes regularly, a few of the most recent names are listed below. Beware – there are a great many counterfeit check scams operating at any given moment, so this list is just the tip of the iceberg.
- Amalia International, Amaliahome.org;
- PWHome; and
- Public Wish.
Many of the scam websites use information, and even names of individuals, found on websites for legitimate charities, such as Habitat for Humanity, among others.
A Similar Scam
A similar fraud has been circulating by email in recent months. The contact telephone numbers given in these email messages are fraudulent – they do not match the numbers listed on the charities’ websites. This scam uses the names of British charitable organizations, including:
- WellChild; and
How to Protect Yourself
Counterfeit check scams and bogus job offers are nothing new. What is new is the sophistication of these scammers.
But you can take steps to protect yourself. Here are some tips:
- Be extremely suspicious of all unsolicited email messages from unfamiliar sources. The Attorney General’s advice is not only not to respond, but to delete such messages without opening them.
- Sometimes, a careful inspection of the websites given in the email messages will cause alarm, but even a careful inspection of a bogus website may not reveal a scam. The best course remains – delete the email messages without opening them.
- Interview and run background checks on all prospective employers the same way you would expect them to interview and run checks on you:
- Do a Google or other online search for the prospective employer to see if there is anything posted about them that may warn you about a scam. There are consumer-oriented websites designed to warn consumers about scams, such as Ripoff Report among others. (The Michigan Department of Attorney General does not endorse or vouch for the accuracy of content on these sites.)
- Run a company search on the Better Business Bureau’s website. If the company purports to be a charity, the BBB also allows you to search for charities by name.
- Contact the Michigan Department of Attorney General, Consumer Protection Division, at 877-765-8388 to see if there have been any complaints filed against this company.
- If a charity refuses to send you any written information before you commit to taking a job or requires you to make a donation – beware! Legitimate charities will not object to sending you written material about their organization before you commit to employment with them or give them a donation.
- If an organization does not readily provide a valid street address and contact information (for example, if communication is done electronically only), this is also a warning sign. Again, most charities and other prospective employers have valid street addresses or some other type of contact information.
- Beware of any company that presses you to advance money out of your own bank account – the mere fact that a check has “cleared” does not mean it is good! While the bank may make funds from the check available to you in a few days, it can take weeks before the forgery is uncovered and the check bounces.
- If you insist on responding to job opportunities that sound like the one described above, inform your contact at the charity or company that you will not forward any money until the check they sent you clears. The contact person likely will not respond and will not contact you again.
- If you believe you have encountered a counterfeit check scam similar to the one described above, please contact the Michigan Department of Attorney General, Consumer Protection Division, and the United States Postal Inspector Service at the numbers listed below.
- If you have given out personal information in response to an unsolicited email, review the consumer alerts on ID theft provided below.
The BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance has also prepared an alert on donation-processing scams, which can be accessed by visiting the Alliance’s home page. The BBB’s alert advises consumers:
- Avoid all employment offers that require you to accept checks for deposit in your personal account and then forward payments to an overseas organization. Never divulge personal information on the Internet until you have checked out the potential charity employer. Unfortunately, con artists will use an identity that is difficult to verify, such as an overseas charity. If you are unable to find out more information about the charity employer from reliable sources, walk away.
- If the organization claims to be a U.S.-based charity, ask it for a copy of its IRS Form 990, the financial report filed with federal and state governments. You also can check out the organization by contacting your state government’s charity registration office (usually a division of the state’s attorney general’s office), visiting the BBB Wise Giving Alliance (if a national charity), or if it is a local charity, visiting the BBB’s website to contact the Better Business Bureau in your area.
- Don’t assume the charity is legitimate because of an impressive looking website that mentions well known personalities and/or official contacts.
- Watch out for “red flags” in the job application process such as requests for your mother’s maiden name or your date of birth. These are not legitimate requests and the information obtained can be used to commit identify theft.
More Information for Consumers
Consumer Alerts on a variety of topics:
- Visit the Michigan Department of Attorney General’s website or call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, toll-free. The contact information is provided below.
- Counterfeit check scams:
- Unsolicited emails:
- Identity Theft:
Contact the Attorney General and the U.S. Postal Inspector Service for Help
If you receive a job solicitation via email that is similar to the one described above, please report the email to the Michigan Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division and the United States Postal Inspector Service. Be sure to provide the names of any websites included in the offer. You may reach these offices at:Michigan Department of Attorney General
Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
Toll free: 877-765-8388
Online complaint form United States Postal Inspector Service
Criminal Investigations Service Center
Attn: Mail Fraud
222 S. Riverside Plaza, Ste. 1250
Chicago, IL 60606-6100
313-226-8184 (Detroit Office)