At a time when a lot of Americans could use some extra cash, the offer sounds pretty sweet:
Wrap your car in advertising for a big-name product — a popular beer, a well-known energy drink, an iconic potato chip — and get paid hundreds of dollars a week just for driving around.
But experts say you might want to hit the brakes and do some legwork first to make sure it’s legitimate. Because instead of adding to that bank account, it could be a scam that aims to drain it.
This month, an alert consumer reported this experience to the Better Business Bureau: “Responded to an employment ad to put a Miller Lite sign on my car for payments. Received a check in the amount of $1,850 ... just too good to be true. Contacted Miller Lite, confirmed that this is a scam.”
Wrote another consumer who got an offer to advertise for a big-name ice cream: “I called Breyers and found out that it is indeed a fraud.”
But wait, you’re thinking — how does someone sending me a check turn into a con that could cost me money?
Here’s how it works: You respond to an ad, email, text or job board that promises to pay you to put advertising on your car — in recent cases, an offer of $800 or more a week.
Then you receive a check for more than that — in some cases, thousands of dollars. You’re instructed to deposit that check in your bank account and use some of the money to pay — sometimes through Venmo, Cash App or a money order — a local vendor or “decal agent” to install the ads on your car.
Using a the name of a trusted product and sending you a check instead of asking for money can make the deal appear more authentic.
But in the scam version, that big check is a fake, just like that decal agent you just paid. Which means that money comes out of your own pocket.
“In the meantime, the phony car wrapping company will have taken your money and disappeared,” the Better Business Bureau said in a recent scam alert. And these kinds of cons are on the rise.
“Fake check scams have two telltale elements,” the Federal Trade Commission said in 2020. “A check to deposit and a plausible explanation for why you can’t keep all the money.”
Their analysis published last year revealed that fake check cons particularly hit people in their 20s and 30s, with a median reported loss of $1,988 in 2019.
Car owners can and do get paid to drive around with ads on their vehicles. But according to Investopedia, the sums that legitimate deals generally pay “amount to a little extra income per month,” not the big amounts some scams might offer.
Tips to avoid getting scammed:
- If you have doubts about a check you’re depositing, wait 30 days before spending the money.
- Only use money transfer apps with people you know.
- Remember that if an offer sounds too good to be true, it often is.