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Where To Cash A Cashier's Check
Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and other places where people buy and sell online have seen an increase in this particular type of scam.
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Cashier’s checks are supposed to be more secure than regular checks. Thanks to the scammers, they are not. For Sarah Lawrence
I have been corresponding with a scammer named Mary Dean for several months now. Our relationship started because he wanted to buy my chronically unplayed cello; I took this tool through two apartment changes over the past few months and finally put it up for sale on Craigslist.
There was a delay after his first message, but I remained hopeful. Finally, Mary Dean wrote and said that her mother had passed away and that she had to attend to family matters, and I told her how much time it would take. I was heartbroken when Mary Dean texted me that she was sending me a cashier’s check for twice the amount I wanted so I could “pay the movers.” I began to suspect that the check would be fake and that I would owe whatever I gave to the bankers. I’m disappointed that I’m not going to get rid of my awkward cello any time soon.
“I think cashier’s checks are being used in an increasing number of schemes,” says Tejasvi Srimushnam, staff attorney for the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. These scams are common on Craigslist and other online marketplaces, and the number of fake check complaints made to the FTC and the Internet Fraud Complaint Center doubled from 12,781 to 29,513 between 2014 and 2017, according to a Better Business Bureau report. .
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When I set out to find out why, I suspected that some kind of technological change had occurred over the past 10 years that made cashier’s checks easier for fraudsters. Maybe printers have become cheaper? Is it easier to duplicate ink? Instead, I found several federal laws responsible for the failure to contain the potentially disastrous mess of our shared online world.
In August 1987, Congress enacted the Fast Track Funds Availability Act. This arrangement requires banks to cash checks to customers after a certain period of time; for most cashier’s checks these days, that means funds must be available within 24 hours. In fact, the act is a compromise between security and convenience, giving banks less than a day to verify a check. Banks are also required to deposit most checks within a week’s clearing process. Together, these rules put banks under a double bind—they must cash customers before they can check checks.
Cashier’s checks are especially quick to turn because they are supposed to be safe. They are given a bank guarantee; they are the debit cards of the checking world. When someone orders a legitimate cashier’s check from a bank, they must either pay the full value in cash or have the amount available for immediate withdrawal from their bank account. A cashier’s check is non-refundable as it is prepaid. It’s a great currency for people who know each other but don’t trust each other
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Craigslist Cashier’s Check Scam
Cashier’s checks aren’t great for people who don’t know each other at all, like two strangers on Craigslist. Because there is always a possibility that they are fake. Usually the scammer gives the victim a check for more money than they want and asks them to pay the extra money to a third party. They have a plausible story for this part: Mary Dean asked me to give the extra money to the cello carriers. There are several other versions of this scam. Maybe a letter comes telling someone that they won the lottery but have to pay taxes to get their money. Perhaps someone recruits the victim as a “mystery shopper,” then asks them to use their own funds to verify the authenticity of the money transfer service.
“Michael,” a Canadian single dad who asked that I not use his real name, was caught in a repeat of this scam. Michael rents out a room in his house for extra income and lives in an area with many universities. He is used to serving students, many of whom come from abroad. She wasn’t suspicious when she got an email from someone claiming she needed a room while she was in school, but she was upset when he sent her a cashier’s check for $3,400 because the rent was only $700. He decided to put his decision in the bank.
Michael warned the teller that he thought the check might be fake and even asked them to hold the money while it was being checked, but the bank employees calmed him down and immediately issued the requested money. The person, believed to be a student, asked Michael to deposit the cash into another bank account that Michael did not own. Soon, the original bank said the check was fake and asked Michael for a refund, depositing more than $2,000. “How are the banks not ready for this?” he says. “I literally walked into my bank and said this is fake, I want to keep it. And they weren’t interested in doing that.”
The people who create these scams are professionals and they are experts in creating stories that catch people off guard or win their sympathy. For example, Mary Dean created a story about how her mother got sick and then died. I believed him, so I made every effort to understand his increasingly strange behavior. The Canadian tenant was expected to work with students from other countries, so his somewhat unusual behavior did not bother him. “This is what [scammers] do day in and day out,” says Srimushnam. “Of course they will be good at what they do.”
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US financial institutions will spend more than $68 billion on cybersecurity between 2016 and 2020.
The crux happens when the person cashes the fake check. The bank has to catch it, right? After all, that is its purpose. US financial institutions are set to spend more than $68
Banks use different methods to secure checks. Matt Kriegsfeld is responsible for digital banking products at Mitek Systems, the company that creates the technology used by banking apps for mobile check deposits. He explains that most large bank checks are printed by two companies, Harland Clarke and Deluxe. These businesses often connect with banks and technology companies like Mitek. Kriegsfeld says Mitek has more than 40 patents in image processing technology. “We’re getting down to the pixel level,” he says. Tricks like the “For mobile deposit only” checkbox are especially helpful, he says. Banking applications take less than three seconds to visually analyze checks. They give all the information they find to the banks, and then the checks go through another round of security.
If a cashier’s check is written by a bank, it must go through a clearinghouse, usually run by the Federal Reserve Board. Although this system has been largely automated since 2004, it can still take more than two weeks, according to the Better Business Bureau. This means that there is often a gap between when the money goes to the bank customer and when it can actually be verified. Cashier’s check scammers take advantage of this uncertainty to ask their victims for some kind of refund. When the bank finally learns that the check is fake and takes the money from the customer’s account, the fraudster will be gone and the victim will be red.
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To the banks’ credit, their security systems actually catch the majority of fraudulent checks. Here’s where the internet comes in: There are a lot of them. In 2016, there were nearly $8 billion worth of check fraud attempts, costing the bank about $790 million. This is only about 9 percent. But the internet is great at connecting potential fraudsters with lots of other people, so that’s 9 percent of the big number. “There are more opportunities for people
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