Consumers and merchants often rely on the security of cashier’s checks for major transactions such as the purchase of a home, car or jewelry. But “security” in this case simply means that cashier’s checks won’t bounce because the issuing banks take full responsibility for covering payment. They aren’t, however, secure from fraud and scams.
Printing technology has grown so advanced over recent years that it’s relatively easy for scammers to forge cashier’s checks in their own basements. As a result, even bank employees may find it difficult to detect a fake, and it can take weeks before a counterfeit cashier’s check is discovered. What’s more, if you spend the funds prematurely, you’ll be liable for the unpaid check (and the resulting fees) once the bank discovers it’s fraudulent.
To help you protect yourself from such crimes, we’ve laid out instructions for verifying the validity of cashier’s checks, spotting the fake ones and reporting an incident if you are ever victimized in a scam below. For general information about cashier’s checks — such as where to buy them and how much they cost — please refer to WalletHub’s Cashier’s Check guide.
Types Of Cashier’s Check Scams
Cashier’s check scams come in various forms. The following table details the most common among them:
|Type Of Scam
||Signs It’s A Scam
||Scammers offer to:-Buy an item you’re selling-Pay for your services in advance-Rent your apartment or rent their apartment to you
-Give you a “deal” on merchandise
-Give you a job (often to “receive customer payments”)
|If you’re selling merchandise, for instance, the scammer will ask you to provide your personal information for printing on a fake cashier’s check that’s usually written in a much higher amount than your asking price.The buyer will then ask you to return the excess amount, claiming he or she made a mistake and hope that you’ll send back legitimate money before you realize the check was fake.
||Scammers claim to be “hiring” people to:-Work from home-Become a secret shopper (often to “assess the quality” of a money transfer service)
||In the telecommuting scenario, victims receive a fake cashier’s check as a starting bonus but are also asked to cover the cost of “account activation.” Scammers hope to receive account activation funds before the cashier’s checks would normally clear.In the mystery-shopping scam, victims are told to deposit a cashier’s check in their bank account and withdraw the amount in cash. They must then use a money-transfer service to send the funds to the scammer and “evaluate” the service.
||Scammers tell victims:-They won the lottery in a foreign country-They received an inheritance from someone’s estate
||Victims are instructed in a letter to “claim” their lottery winnings or inheritance but must first pay “taxes and fees” before receiving their prize or money. A fake cashier’s check is enclosed to cover those taxes and fees, which the scammer asks the victim to wire back.
|Scammers offer to pay by cashier’s check for:-Sale items posted on classified ads or online auction websites
||The scammer often uses an excuse to write the check in a much higher amount than the sale price then asks the victim to wire back the difference after depositing the check in their bank account.
How To Spot A Fake Cashier’s Check
What does a fake cashier’s check look like? It’s hard to tell. Neither consumers nor bank tellers know what to expect because every bank uses a unique design that’s intended to make counterfeiting its cashier’s checks difficult. Fakes also can be hard to distinguish when they’re created using high-quality home scanners and laser printers that lend the checks an appearance of authenticity.
Look for the signs listed in the following table to help you spot a fake cashier’s check.
|What To Look For
||A genuine cashier’s check will display a legitimate bank name, but many fakes will too. You can tell a check is fake if you can’t find legitimate information about the issuing bank online or if the check was mailed from overseas (as is often, but not always, the case).
||Fakes are often written in an amount far exceeding the amount required, which is intended to coax the victim into wiring back the balance to the scammer.
||Fakes are sometimes missing security thread, watermarks, microprints, color-shifting ink, instructions for the bank teller (on the front or back of the check), etc. On the other hand, they may contain these features — but in poor quality.
||The payee’s name should already be printed on a cashier’s check (this is done at the bank by a teller). If the payee line is blank, the check is fake.
|Bank Phone Number
||A genuine cashier’s check always includes a phone number for the issuing bank. That number is often missing on a fake check or is fake itself.
||Scammers often communicate with their victims using poor grammar/spelling or vague language. They may also refuse to meet in person or send an email or a text message indicating they’re not from your area.
||The Office of the Comptroller of Currency (OCC) announces reported fraud cases on its website. If you received a cashier’s check from one of the implicated institutions — especially near the date the fraud was announced — you may have a fake. Keep in mind that the list includes only reported cases.
How To Verify A Cashier’s Check:
Although the signs described in the above table may indicate forgery, they do not always guarantee that a cashier’s check is fake. It’s always a good idea to call or visit the bank before cashing or depositing a cashier’s check, whether or not you doubt its validity. However, do not contact the number that’s printed on the check, as it’s likely also a fake. Instead, search for the institution’s phone number online. Sometimes, the scammer will also use a legitimate routing number and account number on a check, so the bank will have to inspect the check for other indications of fraud.
What To Do If You’re A Victim Of Cashier’s Check Fraud
Even the most cautious consumers can fall victim to cashier’s check fraud. If you find yourself in such an unfortunate situation, you need to report the crime immediately to the following:
- The bank where you deposited the check
- The bank that supposedly issued the check
- The website or service where you encountered the scammer
According to the Office of the Comptroller of Currency, banks are ordinarily required to reimburse their customers for forged checks. However, that all depends on the circumstances of your case and your state’s laws. The bank can choose to investigate whether you deserve to be reimbursed, a process that may require you to first obtain a police report and file an affidavit.
However, a bank also can hold you liable for the entire amount of an unpaid cashier’s check then reverse the transaction upon discovering fraud. It will be your responsibility to pursue the party that issued the fraudulent cashier’s check to you.
If you think the bank did not handle your case properly, seek advice from an attorney about the applicable laws in your state — if you can afford to and if the amount of the check makes the dispute worthwhile. If you earn a low income, you can visit your local legal aid office.
Other Parties To Notify:
In addition, you should file a complaint with the following agencies or authorities to warn others and possibly get action on your case:
Tips For Avoiding Cashier’s Check Fraud
At some point, most people will buy a car or a house in addition to other major transactions that require a relatively safe payment tool. By following the tips below, you can avoid becoming a victim of a scam or fraud if or when it’s time to use or accept a cashier’s check:
- Steer Clear Of Strangers: When it comes to financial transactions, a good rule of thumb to follow is to never accept a cashier’s check from someone you don’t know. It also helps to do business only with local people whose identities you can verify through a phone directory, for instance. Many scam artists operate from foreign countries. And if a buyer or customer instructs you to wire back funds before or after depositing a cashier’s check, this should raise a red flag that the check is fake.
- Go To A Local Bank With Your Buyer: If it’s necessary to accept a cashier’s check for a good or service you’re providing — especially for large transactions — you should ask to meet your customer at a local bank (or a local branch of a big institution). That way, you can instantly verify that a check was issued legitimately. If your customer refuses, it’s a good sign that you’re being conned.
- Don’t Accept More Than What’s Due: More often than not, a scammer pretending to be a buyer or customer will find an excuse to overpay for an item you’re selling or a service you’re offering. It’s always in your best interest to refuse a cashier’s check in an amount exceeding the actual price you’re asking for. Instead, you should ask the buyer to send you a check with the correct amount. Scam artists will usually refuse to do so.
- Understand The Difference Between ‘Clearing’ & ‘Funds Availability’: By law, banks must make funds available from certain types of deposits — such as cashier’s checks — by the next day or within a certain amount of time that a bank can justify as “reasonable.” However, available funds does not automatically guarantee that a check has cleared, meaning the Federal Reserve or other clearing unit has verified the validity of a check and that funds are available to cover it. Some checks unfortunately take longer to clear than others. If possible, wait until your cashier’s check has cleared (posted, not pending, on your bank account) before spending or withdrawing the funds. Otherwise, you’ll be liable for the full amount of the check and resulting bank fees.
- Use PayPal Or A Credit Card: Sometimes, scams work the other way around: you’re a customer buying from a supposed seller. Because cashier’s checks are guaranteed by the banks that issue them, a scammer will find it convenient to accept them to receive immediate payment but never send you the merchandise or provide the service you were seeking. If you’re responding to an ad online (e.g., Craigslist) or an online auction site, opt to pay with PayPal or a credit card instead. PayPal lends anonymity while credit cards provide $0 blanket liability for unauthorized transactions.
Cashier’s Checks: Where To Get One, Cost & More
A cashier’s check is a type of check issued by a bank or credit union and signed by a cashier or teller. Because the funds are drawn directly against the issuing bank’s cash reserves — not a customer’s personal account — the checks cannot bounce. The cashier’s signature, or “endorsement,” on the checks represents this payment guarantee.
Also known as a bank check, teller’s check or an official check, these special payment instruments typically cost about $7 on average and are used to make large transactions, such as the sale of a house or car, safer for all parties. You may also receive a cashier’s check after closing a deposit account that still has money in it.
Although cashier’s checks cannot bounce, they are nonetheless vulnerable to other dangers such as theft or fraud. And it’s not easy to deal with either problem.
Below, we provide an overview of cashier’s checks, including: where and how to buy them, how to cash them, whether they’re safe and what to do if they’re lost, stolen or damaged. Read on to learn more.
Where & How To Get A Cashier’s Check
You can purchase a cashier’s check from most banks and credit unions. In most cases, however, you must do so in person and must have an account with the issuing bank. Some providers, especially large national banks, will cut the cashier’s checks to anyone for a fee, but you can expect to pay more if you don’t have an existing banking relationship with them.
With these guidelines in mind, the actual process of buying a cashier’s check is simple:
How To Get A Cashier’s Check:
Step 1: Establish Parameters & Bring ID – When you request a cashier’s check, the teller will ask for the following:
- Government-Issued ID (e.g., driver’s license or passport)
- Payee’s Name (must be entered on the spot)
- Check Amount (must be covered by cash or account balance)
Step 2: Get An Autograph – Upon verifying your ability to pay for the amount in question, either the teller or a bank officer will sign the check.
Step 3: Pay The Piper – You’ll need to pay the check’s full face value as well as any applicable fees up-front. The fee is between $3 and $10 or a percentage of the check amount. The table below lists which payment types are typically accepted.
||Acceptable As Payment?
|Bank Account Withdrawal
*Requires obtaining cash advance, which is very costly on its own
Can I Buy & Send A Cashier’s Check Online?
Only a few banks such as Wells Fargo (branch-based) and Ally Bank (online-only) allow customers to buy cashier’s checks online. But that just gets you mail delivery. You can neither send someone a cashier’s check electronically nor use it for spending online.
That’s because ACH and wire transfers are considered the equivalents of an electronic cashier’s check in terms of security. As far as online shopping is concerned, your best bet is to simply use a credit card. All credit cards provide $0 liability guarantees that ensure you won’t have to pay for any fraudulent transactions.
How To Cash A Cashier’s Check
You have 90 to 120 days from the date a cashier’s check is issued to cash it. When doing so, you’ll need to present a government-issued ID (e.g., driver’s license or passport) and possibly a second form of identification such as a credit card or utility bill.
Where To Cash A Cashier’s Check
The issuing bank is the only financial institution required to honor a cashier’s check, but other places may still allow you to cash it. That said, here are your options:
- If you have an account with the issuing bank: You should have no problem cashing the check.
- If you do not have an account with the issuing bank: The bank may still cash your check but charge you a heftier fee than it does to customers. Otherwise, you can try another bank, but be forewarned that many banks do not extend this service to non-customers in order to protect themselves against cashier’s check fraud.
- If no bank will accept your check: Your only alternative may be a check-cashing service, which charges comparable fees.
When Can I Spend The Funds From A Cashier’s Check I Deposited?
That depends on the check amount and deposit method. By law, the funds from a cashier’s check for $5,000 or less deposited in person at a bank branch will be available by the next business day. If your check is for a higher amount or was deposited using a different method (e.g., through an ATM), you can find the applicable rule on WalletHub’s Funds Availability guide.
Are Cashier’s Checks Safe?
Yes and no.
Cashier’s checks are often considered safer payment options than cash and personal checks because payment against them is always guaranteed — as long as they’re genuine. Once you’ve paid the face value of the check and the associated fee, if any, the bank will assume full responsibility for covering the check upon cashing. You only have to worry about the check bouncing if the issuing bank goes under, which is highly unlikely.
However, advanced printing technology has made it possible for fraudsters to forge cashier’s checks and even duplicate security features intended to guard them against illegal activity. As a result, a fake cashier’s check that you deposit can still clear. But you’re out the money plus the resulting bank charges if you spend the funds before your bank discovers the check is fraudulent, a process that can take weeks.
Check out WalletHub’s guide on cashier’s check fraud to learn how to protect yourself or what to do if you’re a victim of a cashier’s check scam. The next section covers the steps you’d need to take in the event your cashier’s check is damaged, destroyed, lost or stolen.
How To Deal With A Lost, Stolen Or Damaged Cashier’s Check
The physical nature of cashier’s checks makes them susceptible to damage, loss and theft. Unfortunately, you cannot simply “cancel” or request a stop payment on a bank-guaranteed item. The check can still be replaced or reissued if the situation warrants it, but the process can be painful. In this situation, you have two options:
- File A Claim: After 90 days of the date a cashier’s check was issued, you can file what’s called a “declaration of loss” with the issuing bank. Under Section 3-312 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), which lays out the rules for lost, stolen or destroyed cashier’s checks, the bank must issue a replacement check once they process the declaration. If they do not honor this rule, seek an attorney if the amount of the check is large enough to make legal action worthwhile.
- Get An Indemnity Bond: Section 3-312 of the UCC eliminated the need for this option. However, each state can modify the rule and stipulate further requirements in order to reissue a lost, stolen or destroyed cashier’s check. In this case, the issuing bank may require you to obtain an indemnity bond for the same amount of the check before it will issue a replacement. The indemnity bond is a type of insurance intended to protect the bank in case you lose the replacement check. This option may be worth pursuing if the cashier’s check is for a small amount or if you cannot afford to hire an attorney to help you recover the check.
Don’t cash that check!
It looks like a real check but has a better shot at quacking like a duck.
Phony cashier’s checks are being mailed to consumers, purporting to be installments for more lucrative prizes from a contest the “winners” never entered.
The dupe hinges on legitimate-looking bank drafts that convince unsuspecting recipients that they’ve hit pay dirt when in reality they’re being set up in a long-running scam that has cost consumers millions.
Consumers are told in an accompanying letter – in one scheme, it’s from the equally legitimate-sounding North American Prize Remittance Board – that the funds are to cover taxes and “clearance fees” needed to acquire a much larger cash prize, which they are told is sponsored by a number of high- profile, recognizable companies.
- See an interactive graphic that shows some examples of check scams and offers tips on how to avoid becoming a victim.
- Learn how to tell the difference between a real sweepstakes and a scam, courtesy of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), and the Postal Service’s Office of Consumer Advocate.
- Learn more about international lottery scams from the Federal Trade Commission.
- Read a list of facts for consumers from the Federal Trade Commission.
- Spotting and avoid common scams, fraud and schemes online and offline
- Read a joint advisory from the U.S. Department of Justice and Canadian officials about counterfeit checks and money order scams. (PDF, 4 pages)
- File a complaint involving counterfeit checks with the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center.
The consumer is typically instructed to deposit the check into his or her bank account and remit the same amount in a check to the sender.
By the time the bank discovers the bogus check, the consumer’s check has cleared, the scammers have made off with their money and the consumer is on the hook for all the money.
“There is no Prize Remittance Board,” said Colorado Assistant Attorney General Jan Zavislan, whose consumer-protection unit helps investigate the cases with the FBI. The phony cashier’s checks “look great because they have some official seal and are fancy. It’s all part of the scam.”
The latest incarnation is a cashier’s check supposedly drawn on an account at Woodforest National Bank, a legitimate institution in Houston with branches in 11 states. It has been the target of counterfeiters since at least 2004.
“It is unbelievable how far they go,” said Loretta Anderson, Woodforest’s vice president of fraud and risk management. “We simply won’t accept a cashier’s check, and our automated system rejects them.”
The checks are not limited to Woodforest. The National Association of Home Builders recently alerted people on its website that its checks were copied and used in a similar scam.
“I don’t think there’s a financial institution in America that hasn’t had their checks counterfeited,” Anderson said.
Federal authorities warn consumers to be alert for the scam, which can recur under a different guise with the same result.
“We see all kinds of variations of these schemes, and they are not new,” FBI spokeswoman Rene VonderHaar said.
Consumers who deposit the fake check – even just to keep it – can be held liable for the amount by their bank. And if the consumer sends the scammers a check, they’re out that money, too.
“A cashier’s check is not gold,” Zavislan said. “They are not guaranteed dollars. If you deposit it, you’re responsible for those funds.”
Sometimes, the victim is arrested erroneously. That’s because a bank, noticing a fraudulent check has been deposited, suspects the depositor of fraud.
The phone number listed on a letter sent with the phony Woodforest check is to Ontario, Canada, where the letter originated. It contained only a recording – in English and French – saying there was no more room for any messages.
The U.S. Department of Justice, with Canadian authorities, has issued warnings about check scams, saying the number of schemes has increased by more than 500 percent in the last four years.
Said Zavislan: “The big thing is not to accept at face value any check that a stranger sent you in the mail.”
Staff writer David Migoya can be reached at 303-954-1506 or email@example.com.