One of the scams I’ve seen here and there for years is the check cashing scam. It’s still around, but now the FBI says it’s targeting college students. That makes now a good time to review that scam so that you won’t fall for it and you might be able to help others avoid it as well.

The scam is pretty simple. You answer a job ad, and your supposed employer sends you counterfeit checks. You deposit it in your account, keep part and send the balance back to someone as a wire transfer. In this particular version, they may claim you’re sending the money to a vendor to buy equipment or other supplies for the job. You won’t know that the check is bad until it’s too late.

When you look at it, the scam ought to be easy to spot. This doesn’t keep people from falling for it, of course. Legitimate employers do not send you payment before you’ve even started to work, for starters. They also don’t generally send you a check and tell you to go through their vendor to buy the supplies you need for the job. You certainly don’t normally wire money to a vendor to pay them.

A legitimate employer will either expect you to buy what you need on your own or send the equipment and supplies to you themselves. I occasionally see job listings that say you will be allowed a certain amount of money to buy equipment, but that’s not likely to be mixed in with your regular pay… especially when you haven’t actually started yet.

This kind of scam can make your life very difficult for a time. Your bank account could be closed due to the fraudulent activity. You will have to pay bank back for all the money. You may have shared personal information that will make it easier for your identity to be stolen.

Scams like this are why you should always be careful when applying for work. That means here on this website, on your college job board, or any other job board. If something sounds wrong, check into it more carefully before sending in your personal information. You’ll save yourself a lot of heartbreak and financial trouble by avoiding work at home scams.

As a general rule, if you see a job opportunity of any sort, but something seems off about it, be careful. Scammers are often not native English speakers, and this may show in the job ad. Misspellings, strange capitalizations and poor grammar are clues that something might be wrong. Too much money for too little work is another clue.

If you are scammed online, you can report it to the FBI at https://www.ic3.gov/. You can also report it to the police. Local police may be limited in what they can do about an online crime, but it can be helpful for them to know what’s going around.

Disclosure: I often review or mention products for which I may receive compensation in the form of affiliate commissions. All opinions are my own.