Last year, Rebecca Antonelli Custer tried to sell her daughter's 1993 Infinity on Craigslist, a free online classified advertising service.
Her asking price was $1,000. Most of the responses asked for more details about the car, but one eager buyer offered to send a certified check right away.
Custer agreed to accept $900. Within a day or so, a check arrived in a FedEx package - for $2,500.
The man e-mailed Custer, asking her to deposit the check in the bank immediately and explaining that she should give the extra $1,600 to a shipper who would pick it up.
The check was drawn on a Bank of America account. At first glance, it looked legitimate, Custer said.
But she noticed a few things that made her suspicious. There wasn't a perforated edge like the one you usually see on certified checks that have multiple copies. She also noticed that the numbers written on the check were not embossed - another common feature of a certified check.
Custer put the check aside and waited to see whether the man would contact her again. He did several times, and with each e-mail message, he became more impatient.
Then he started calling Custer at home. He apparently got her number from her e-mail tagline. She finally told him that she was going to call the police, and he stopped contacting her.
"He kept trying to convince me everything was legitimate," said Custer, the owner of TrianglePR, a Raleigh, N.C., public relations firm. "But I had read enough about Internet scams; I thought it was a scam."
Custer was wise to be cautious. According to the North Carolina Attorney General's Office, counterfeit check scams appear to be on the rise.
The scam artists respond to people who have posted items for sale on legitimate Web sites such as eBay and Craigslist. Then they offer to buy an item and send a certified check for more than the purchase price. The seller is asked to deposit the check and wire back the difference. Consumers who cash the check and wire the money find out later that the check was fake.
This scam can cause even more problems, as San Francisco resident Matthew Shinnick found out last year. Shinnick tried to cash a check he received from a buyer on Craigslist at Bank of America. He was arrested when the check was found to be fraudulent.
The charges were eventually dropped and his record expunged. But not before Shinnick racked up $14,000 in legal fees. Bank of America has apologized for the incident but so far has refused to pay Shinnick's legal fees.
"That could have easily been me," Custer said.
That could easily have been any of us.
I called Bank of America to find out what consumers should do if they think they have received a bogus check.
Michael Chee, a spokesman for the Charlotte, N.C., bank, said:
Do not sign or endorse a check you think is bogus.
Call the bank's customer representative and explain exactly why you have concerns about the check. The representative can take the checking account number and the routing number and verify the check.
If you decide to go to the bank in person, do not take the check to a teller. Instead, ask to speak directly with a bank manager and explain how the check came into your possession and why you suspect that it's fraudulent.