With bright colors and flashy logos, cars wrapped in ads seem to be roaming the roads just about everywhere.
Debi Tully of Chicago Ridge sees them all over the place, which is why she said she didn’t think twice when an email that offered her a job driving her own ad-on-wheels vehicle popped into her inbox.
The deal was purportedly from a French-based energy drink that would soon be heading to American stores that wanted her to have her car modded out with designs for their product. Easy money, she thought. But not so fast.
"He would send me a check," Tully recalled. "I would keep 'x' amount, the $300, and the rest of it would go for wrapping."
Tully did receive the check -- which totaled nearly $3,000. She was instructed to cash it, keep her $300, and wire the rest to a graphic design artist to design the wrap.
"I think that might have raised a red flag," she said. "Why would I be paying their vendor? Why aren't they paying their vendor directly?"
Tully explained the concept to her bank, and the bank advised her against cashing the check. At the last moment she avoided a major headache and possible overdraft fees. That check was likely fraudulent.
It’s a scheme similar to others that have preyed on consumers for years. The Federal Trade Commission likens it to the "sweepstakes scam" where consumers win millions of dollars, or the "secret shopper" job that pays so well.
"They all involve situations where the consumer receives a check and are supposed to deposit it in their bank account and then wire funds through Money Gram or Western Union to some third party they don’t know," said FTC spokesperson Todd Kossow.
A federal banking law plays an unfortunate role in the scam. The Expedited Funds Availability Act requires banks to make money available to consumers within 48 hours of being deposited. The problem is it usually takes a couple of weeks for the banks to determine the check is fake.
"And by that point, if the consumer has already wire transferred the funds off to this third party, the consumer is on the hook," Kossow explained.
The Federal Trade Commission has received hundreds of complaints from consumers who claim to be victims of the "car wrap" scam.
"If it’s wrapped, your eyes are just drawn to it," said Mike Heffner, who has been wrapping cars for a decade in Burr Ridge. Heffner worries that this scam is hurting an otherwise legitimate industry.
"That’s a myth! No one’s going to pay you to wrap your car and pay you to drive around in it. It’s just unheard of," Heffner said.
In most cases, the FTC won’t go as far as to say all car wrap offers are scams. Consumers who do get paid to wrap their car are the extreme exceptions. It is important to note that those offers never include wiring money to a third party.