Scam Artists Target Online Checks

Valerie Scott's husband may bring home the bacon, but she manages the family budget, faithfully reading her bank statements. That's where she recently caught a check that was charged to her account that didn't register.

When she called the bank to report the problem, she was told, "Are you sure it's not yours?"

The check had her name and account number, but where her signature should appear, it read: "Authorized by customer. No signature required." The customer, pharmacycards.com. was really a sham company.

"You could have your account totally emptied without your knowledge or permission," says Scott. "It makes you feel impotent as a person."

As CBS News Correspondent Jim Acosta reports, Scott is not alone. The bogus Web site targeted 90,000 accounts, printing reams of checks and almost getting away with $12 million. The scam fooled the check processors that work on behalf of the banks.

The transactions appeared to be the kind of payments authorized by consumers who, like Scott, bank online.

"What happened here was Pharmacy Cards was able to convince some processors that they were a legitimate business -- they had a Web site," says Howard Beales of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection. "They looked like they had a product and therefore they could process their transactions."

The Electronic Payments Association refused to comment for our story, but the processor that cleared Scott's bogus check told CBS News, "We're continuing to provide refunds to those people who were taken advantage of."

The FTC notes many consumers still don't know they were robbed because they don't check their monthly statements.

"If consumers act promptly, then our experience is that the banks are very willing to fix the problem," says Beales. "The longer you wait, the harder it is."

Scott didn't wait and is glad she checked her statement.

It's a lesson, she says, consumers can take to the bank.
  • Jaime Holguin

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