Action News Jax Investigates: ‘It looked real’ Car wrap fake check scams target gig workers

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Frank Wilbanks was banking on making a few bucks and loved the idea of earning money by simply adding advertisements to his car.

“It started with an email -  follow the link if you would like to get $500 a week,” Wilbanks told Action News Jax Ben Becker.

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Wilbanks received a $3,525 check and was told to keep $500 for himself and send the rest to “the installer who will be coming over to put the decal on your vehicle” to promote Dasani water for a minimum of four weeks.

Wilbanks was ready to drive for dollars and went to his bank, but he found out the ad for water didn’t hold water.

“The ATM wouldn’t take it?” asked Becker.

”It would not take the check,” said Wilbanks “To me, it looked real, and when the ATM machine wouldn’t take the check, that’s when I started doing research.”

Wilbanks soon found out it was an age-old fake check scam.

The Federal Trade Commission says people reported more than 27,000 fake check scams in 2019, with reported losses topping $28 million.

“How good is business?” Becker asked Judah Longgrear, the CEO and Co-Founder of Nickelytics, whose business pays people to place ads on their cars, usually $175 a month for up to a year.

”Business has been great,” said Longgrear, and added that these types of scams are growing, especially in a gig economy as people try to make money in new ways during the pandemic.

“Things to look out for, if you have to send personal information, if you have to pay out of pocket, if the payout doesn’t seem like it’s feasible,” says Longgrear. “Those are the top three things you want to look out for.”

Becker texted the number on the fake ad that Wilbanks received to see if he would get a response and never heard back.

Becker also called the company listed on the check, Clear Technologies Inc, and no one answered.

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Becker emailed Dasani’s parent company, The Coca-Cola Company, to ask if this offer was legit. A spokesperson sent a statement:

“This offer has no relation or affiliation to The Coca-Cola Company’s water brand DASANI.”

Finally, Becker called the bank that appeared to issue the check, Amegy Bank out of Houston, Texas, which sent Becker a statement:

”This fake check is a perfect example of when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Remember, consider it a red flag and be vigilant whenever you receive money from an unfamiliar source or money you have not earned. As an abundance of caution, we suggest verifying with the bank associated with the check by calling the number found on the bank’s website, not on the check in question—as well as never sending money to strangers you have not met. The upcoming holiday shopping season coincides with the increase in scam practices, so we suggest everyone stay on high alert during this time.”

“I’m just glad the ATM machine didn’t work,” laughed Wilbanks. “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

Experts say if you deposit a fake check and send money back to the scammers, you have to pay back the bank when the check bounces.

The Better Business Bureau has more information on how to avoid a car wrap fake check scam: https://www.bbb.org/article/news-releases/17538-bbb-urges-people-to-be-wary-of-promises-of-easy-money-in-vehicle-wrap-schemes