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The Billings Police Department has recently investigated check-cashing scams in the Billings area and is advising residents to be cautious when contacted by unknown people requesting help with bank or financial transactions.

In several examples, victims received a phone call, letter or e-mail offering to buy an item, rent an apartment sight unseen or offer a job.

The scammers sent checks, but they were for more than was agreed. Then they said they made a mistake and asked the victims to wire the difference back to them by Western Union, Moneygram or another wire transfer service. The scammers never ask to have the money sent by U.S. Postal Service.

When the victims endorsed the back of the checks and cashed them they found the checks were fraudulent.

The victims were responsible for the entire amount the check was written for.

Police officials said the reason a scammer will not ask to have a check sent through the U.S. Postal Service is because it is a violation of federal laws. Western Union and Moneygram are private companies that are not covered by federal wire laws.

In another example, a victim applied for a job on the Internet and received an overnight UPS package from the scammer with checks in it.

The scammer told the victim to cash the checks and keep a percentage of the money and send the rest to a third party in another country. The checks were fraudulent.

Most of the scams included the following elements: Someone wants the transaction done by Western Union, Moneygram, a cashier's check, money order or shipment via FedEx, UPS, DHL - never by the U.S. Postal Service - or the scammer refuses to meet face to face before completing a transaction.

Inquiries could come from someone claiming to be in town or in another country, police officials warned.

The Billings Police Department offered some safety tips:

• If the offer appears too good to be true, it probably is.

• Deal locally with people you can meet in person.

• Never wire funds via Western Union, Moneygram or other wire services or to a third party that you do not know.

• Never give out financial information, including bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, or eBay or PayPal account data.

Scams can come in various forms, including donations to disaster victims, employment opportunities and everyday items for sale.

Fake cashier's checks and money orders are common. Banks will cash them, but the person cashing the check will be held responsible when the fake is discovered, sometimes weeks later.