Scam Alert: Banking phony check can hurt

December 19, 2009 

• THE SCAM: Sweepstakes winner

• HOW IT WORKS: A Modesto woman received a letter claiming to be from Reader's Digest and alerting her to her third-place finish in its sweepstakes contest worth $65,000. All she had to do to collect was put their check for $3,058.65 into her account and then use the money to pay "clearing/processing fees." And that's the problem. There's no guarantee the check is any good because it takes a few days to clear. If you pay the fees immediately thinking the check will clear, you will be shocked to find it's no good and the money you paid out is gone.

• WHAT'S AT STAKE: Your money

• HOW TO BEAT IT: Like the woman who received the letter, be suspicious of any notice you've won anything if it involves a contest you never entered. Also, you're never required to pay upfront costs or fees to collect contest winnings of any kind, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Ask your bank to verify the check if you think it's legit. But any money you pay out before that check clears will be lost if it's phony. Don't let greed cloud your judgment. If you do, you might end up a loser instead of a winner.

For a look at past scams, go to

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