Ken Paxton
Consumer Protection

Landlords, Roommates Can Fall Prey to Counterfeit Checks

Texans who plan to get a roommate or rent out their house or apartment in the new year should beware of a new version of an old counterfeit check scam.

The U.S. Postal Inspector recently warned that some property owners are being duped by con artists using counterfeit checks. Managers of large apartment complexes and owners of a single rental property are targeted by the scam. A landlord should not trust a prospective tenant who responds from overseas to an online advertisement, pays a deposit with a cashier’s check (possibly even offering to pay several months’ rent in advance), and then asks the landlord to wire back part of the money. The checks often turn out to be clever counterfeits.

People who advertise seeking roommates should be careful of this scam as well. Roommates abroad who send large deposit checks and then ask to have some funds returned to them because of a “family emergency” or similar reason are simply trying to profit from the prospective roommate’s trust.

To provide further reassurances, the scammer might even telephone the person who places the advertisement. But the result is invariably the same: They want to separate consumers from their money.

Many consumers mistakenly believe it is possible to get back their money, but the con artists behind these ploys are almost always in other countries. Even with the assistance of international law enforcement authorities, these thieves are nearly impossible to catch because they are constantly on the move.

Landlords and roommate seekers who are contacted with one of these offers should simply say “no.”

ABOUT CONSUMER ALERTS - The Office of the Attorney General accepts consumer complaints about businesses. When a pattern of complaints warrants intervention, the Attorney General can file a civil lawsuit under consumer protection statutes, sometimes with the result that a company is required to pay restitution to consumers -- see our Major Lawsuits page. However, when a consumer is swindled by a con artist, filing a complaint cannot help. Civil litigation can sometimes put a very unscrupulous business out of action, but often cannot produce restitution.

Individual con artists generally fall under the jurisdiction of a criminal prosecutor -- in Texas, this is the district or county attorney. But even when they are charged and convicted, these individuals usually have spent the money as fast as they have stolen it. A person who is the victim of fraud should report the incident to the police or sheriff. But by far the best thing is for consumers to be aware of fraud, so they are not swindled in the first place. For this reason, the Office of the Attorney General posts these Consumer Alerts about possible scams and schemes that come to our attention through citizen contacts to our office or other sources.