"Card cracking" scams are cranking up on social media

Promises of easy money are luring young people into a scam called "card cracking," in which they let criminals deposit phony checks in their bank accounts in exchange for a small cut of the illicit profits.

Sometimes the schemes are disguised as contests or scholarship opportunities, but more recently criminals have taken to social media to flaunt their supposed wealth and recruit new participants.

"This has been going on for a long time," said Avivah Litan, vice president and distinguished analyst at information technology firm Gartner (IT). "What's new is the videos and the bragging about it."

Last year, Chicago police arrested 29 people, including rapper Bandman Kevo, for a fraud authorities said cost banks millions of dollars. Court documents claimed the group used YouTube (GOOG), Facebook (FB), Instagram and Twitter (TWTR) to promote the con, and that Kevo -- also known as Kevin Ford -- posted images of himself behind the wheel of a Maserati and counting money to lure people to the scheme.

Recruits give up their debit card numbers and personal identification numbers (PINs) so that criminals can deposit multiple counterfeit checks and then quickly withdraw the money from ATMs. Participants are often advised to file fraud claims against the banks.

An American Banker Association survey in August last year found responding banks reported more than $18 million in card cracking attempts since January 2013 and actually lost $6 million from more than 2,600 card cracking cases.

"Many of the 'victims' do not understand they are facilitating a crime in which they could receive up to 30 years in prison for their participation," the ABA warned in a statement.

The frauds often succeed because banks haven't invested in updating their antiquated check-processing system, which allows delays between when the bogus checks are deposited and when the fraud is discovered, Litan said.

The current system is far more likely to flag a legitimate check as fraudulent than to detect real fraud, she said.

"They get 1,001 false positives," Litan said. "Everyone says checks are going away, but they're the biggest source of financial fraud."

  • Liz Weston

    Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a personal finance website, and author of "Your Credit Score." Email: lweston@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @lizweston.