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Consumer Advisory 2007-1
January 16, 2007
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Many consumers have become victims of scams involving a fraudulent cashier's check. A cashier's check is a check that is issued by a bank, and sold to its customer or another purchaser, that is a direct obligation of the bank. Cashier's checks are viewed as relatively risk-free instruments and, therefore, are often used as a trusted form of payment to consumers for goods and services.
However, cashier's checks lately have become an attractive vehicle for fraud when used for payments to consumers. Although, the amount of a cashier's check quickly becomes "available" for withdrawal by the consumer after the consumer deposits the check, these funds do not belong to the consumer if the check proves to be fraudulent. It may take weeks to discover that a cashier's check is fraudulent. In the meantime, the consumer may have irrevocably wired the funds to a scam artist or otherwise used the funds—only to find out later, when the fraud is detected—that the consumer owes the bank the full amount of the cashier's check that had been deposited.
This OCC Consumer Advisory on Avoiding Cashier's Check Fraud gives you information on some common scams and some steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim. Although this advisory focuses on cashier's checks, you may find the information useful if you transact business using other official bank instruments, such as money orders and official checks.
Common Scams - Each scam involving a fraudulent cashier's check may be different, but some of the more common scenarios are:
Scams also may involve other types of checks. For example, the fraudulent check may appear to be written on the account of a real person or company or be written on an account that contains insufficient funds to cover the check. Other scams involve fraudulent postal service money orders or fraudulent money orders that appear to have been issued by a bank.
The result of these scams is that the fraudulent check will be returned unpaid. The bank will then deduct the amount of the check from your account or otherwise seek repayment from you, and you will lose either the goods that you sold, the money that you sent to the third party, or both.
A cashier's check is a check issued by a bank and payable to a specific person. Because a cashier's check is issued by a bank, itself, the cashier's check is paid by funds of the bank and not the depositor. Therefore, if an item is genuine, there is very little risk that the instrument will be returned.
Sometimes, however, a cashier's check is not genuine, and, if you unknowingly accept a fraudulent cashier's check in exchange for goods or services, you will likely be the one who suffers the financial loss.
It can be very difficult for either you or your bank to tell. When you deposit a check into your account, your bank generally is required by law to make the funds available within a specific period of time (usually, one business day for a cashier's check or other official instrument). This is true even if the check has not yet cleared through the banking system. Therefore, even if the funds have been made available in your account, you cannot be certain that the check has cleared or is "good."
Your bank also may not be able to determine that the check is fraudulent when you deposit it. Rather, your bank may learn of the problem only when the check is returned unpaid by the other bank—which may take a couple weeks or more. Scammers try to make the item look genuine, which will delay discovery of the fraud. Once the item has been returned unpaid, your bank, generally, will be able to reverse the deposit to your account and collect the amount of the deposit from you.
If you find yourself in this situation, you ordinarily would have a remedy against the person who wrote the check. However, you will have great difficulty pursuing any remedy against these scammers, especially if they reside in a foreign country or have disguised their identities.
Keep the following tips in mind.
Anytime a scam involves a cashier's check, official check, or money order from a bank, and you believe that it could be counterfeit, you should contact the issuing bank directly to report receipt of the check and to verify authenticity. When contacting the bank, do not use the telephone number provided on the instrument, as this number is probably not associated with the bank, but rather with the scam artist.
To locate a bank's mailing address, you can check the FDIC's website at: http://research.fdic.gov/bankfind/
In addition to contacting the appropriate banks, there are others whom you also should notify if you receive a counterfeit item. They include:
Finally, if you have a complaint or problem involving a check written on, or deposited in an account at, a national bank, and you cannot resolve the problem with the bank, contact the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's Customer Assistance Group by calling (800) 613-6743 or by sending an email to: email@example.com.