New Flood Of Fraudulent Check Scams Targeting Drone Service Providers

Drone Service Providers are reporting a resurgence of fraudulent check/overpayment scams. Here's how you can protect yourself.

“I need an initial aerial shoot of the site at all four cardinal directions at 200 & 400ft. My surveyor will be working on the property survey during the shoot. That is the reason why I need the aerial photographs ,pictures and video for the progression of the site. My budget is $5,000 grand. Due to my hearing impaired i can only be reach through email and text…”

If this sounds familiar, it's because scams like this are once again targeting of all sizes. As a former fraud prevention technology developer, I wanted to share some insight into how these scams work and their warning signs.

How Fake Check/Overpayment Scams Work

The wording may vary greatly, but the scam is almost always the same: You are overpaid for a job with a bogus certified or cashier's check and asked to return or redirect some of the money. The check will clear because of how these checks are processed. A few days later, the fraudulent check will be identified, the funds will be reversed, and you will be responsible for the money you sent back.

New Flood Of Fraudulent Check Scams Targeting Drone Service Providers 1
An example of how Fake Check/Overpayment scams work. Image from the FTC.

A variation of this scam involves being paid with a stolen credit card with the same end result – you will be out the money you send back to the scammer or their accomplice.

Warning Signs For Fake Check/Overpayment Scams

Look out for these warning signs:

  • Generic email address (Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc.), sometimes with a mismatch between the name part of the email address and the name given in the email and/or with many numbers after the name
  • Generic-sounding email, usually with many spelling and grammatical errors
  • Vague project parameters with very few details or follow-up questions
  • Minimal contact information provided (no physical address, phone number, company name, etc.)
  • Unwillingness to speak on the phone or meet in person (scammers will often cite illness)
  • Little concern about cost and/or willingness to overpay
  • Mentioning third parties, you will have to hire or pay with additional money sent to you

No single one means you are definitely being scammed, but when in doubt just walk away.

How To Avoid Fake Check/Overpayment Scams

Here's how you can help avoid being scammed:

  • Insist on full contact details for the contract and verify those details
  • Call the client at the number they provided (scammers can “spoof” caller ID, making any number they want appear when they call you)
  • Validate certified/cashier's checks with the issuing banks
  • NEVER accept overpayment – if a client wants you to pay other vendors from your payment or say they made a mistake and overpaid, say no and return/destroy the check

Most check scammers are outside the US, usually in with minimal effort to stop them. If you fall for a scam, the chance of the scammer being caught and your money being returned is almost nil. Sometimes they may have a US accomplice, often a victim being scammed themselves. Don't let this fool you into an overpayment scam.

General Information About Check Scams

For more information on check scams in general, visit the FTC page on the subject.

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Dave Ziegler
Dave Ziegler

In addition to being a 107 certified drone service provider, Dave is also a technical writer and trainer with 30 years of IT experience. He is currently most interested in combing information technology and drones, helping small businesses, and promoting sUAS safety as an FAA Safety Team “DronePro” Representative and FAA certified Ground Instructor (AGI).

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One comment

  1. I had one of these scammers email me. Something seemed off, but I exchanged several emails with her.
    Eventually she asked for a favor, and I knew immediately what was coming. Wasted a bit of my time but lesson learned.

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