Published: Jan 07, 2013 6:02 PM EST

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- You hear about scams almost every night, but the cons still find plenty of victims every year. But there's one thing you can do to keep yourself from becoming a victim.

If you ever receive a check in the mail from someone you don't know, rip it up.

"He sent me a check for $50,000," said Taylor Campbell who learned this lesson the hard way.

Campbell is talking about the person she met online who claimed he was stranded in Africa.

"He wanted me to send him a portion and send it to him as soon as possible so he could get home to the states and take care of his Dad."

But her online friend left out a crucial piece of information: it was a fraudulent check.

It's the same story for nearly all of the scams you ever hear about.

"They mail you a counterfeit check, you deposit the check, you wire the funds and you're out the money," said U.S. Postal Inspector Renee Focht.

Banking regulations require banks to release funds before a check clears. But once the bank realizes the check is fake, the victim is responsible.

"When you receive a check and sign the back of it, you're endorsing the check; you're saying that check is good," Focht said.

There's no doubt the new year will bring new scams. But the sure-fire way to stop scammers in their tracks will work every time.

"If you receive a check from an unknown source, don't deposit the check, don't wire the funds, don't become a victim," Focht said.