Tutors Beware: The Check Overpayment Scam

Check fraudsters often target freelancers and the self-employed because they’re be less likely to report scams, and more naive about the existence of check writing scams. If you are a private tutor who uses advertising (rather than word-of-mouth) to gain clients, you might be contacted by a fake ‘student’ who intends to bilk you out of your hard earned money. Luckily, you can easily spot this con and avoid being a victim.

How the scam is presented to you:

A prospective tutoring client will contact you by email or phone to arrange a meeting. If you state up front that you only accept cash or credit card pre-payment through your website, they will insist that they can only pay by check. If you don’t discuss payment methods at all, they will assume that checks are OK. (I always advise that tutors accept only cash from clients they don’t know very well.)

The tutoring session will go as planned. Either at the beginning or end of the meeting the ‘client’ will give you a check for more than the agreed upon amount even though you were very clear about your rates. This is intentional on their part, but they will have one of several excuses: ‘I accidentally wrote the wrong amount and this is my last check.’ or ‘My job is reimbursing me and they give me this amount per session.’ Whatever the reason, they will insist that you give them change for the overpaid amount, either in cash or a personal check from you.

Example, you charge $40 and they give you a check for $100, then they ask that you give them $60 to make up the difference. If you have cash or checks on hand, you might be so gullible as to give them the money.

How you end up getting scammed:

The check is a forgery and if you take them to the bank, you will not receive any money. If the bank is careless and deposits the money in your account, they will later discover their error and reverse the transaction. Meanwhile you just paid the scammer! You essentially paid for a lesson is check fraud.

How to avoid getting duped:

Insist on a cash-only policy for new clients, or set up a website where you can be paid in advance by credit or depit card. (You can do this if you have a PayPal account.) If someone overpays you by check, DO NOT under any circumstances accept the check or agree to pay the difference.

Other scams to watch out for:

How to Avoid Unclaimed Money and Cashier’s Check Scams

Website Owners: How to Avoid the ‘Directory Listing’ Scam

Secret Shopper Scams: Don’t Let Con Artists Steal Your Money with Fake Jobs