Many people assume a cashier’s check, which is a check issued by a bank and payable to a specific person, is as good as cash. By using a cashier’s check, a buyer is guaranteed those funds by the issuing bank instead of gambling on the legitimacy of a personal check.
However, the safety of cashier’s checks is not the guarantee it once was. Scammers have found ways to take advantage of honest sellers, and as technology advances, thieves, with a home computer and printer, can create fake checks that would fool most people.
In fact, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) Law Enforcement was recently notified of a case involving a forged cashier’s check offered for payment in a cattle sale made over the Internet and by phone. The buyer sent a contract hauler to pick up the cattle, but the seller checked with his bank to make sure the cashier’s check was legitimate. As it turned out, the check was a fake. Because the seller took the extra step of verifying the check’s authenticity with his bank, he did not lose his cattle.
I asked TSCRA’s Special Rangers, “How do you make sure you’re not risking becoming a victim of fraud in transactions involving a cashier’s check?”
Tips to Avoid Cashier’s Check Fraud
Know your buyer. The best way to avoid a scam is to refuse to accept cashier’s checks from strangers. However, as online transactions have become more commonplace, it may not be possible to know your buyer.
Trust your gut. Does something feel a bit off about the transaction? Have the buyers insisted on making changes to the agreement or have a litany of excuses or extenuating circumstances? It may be better to rely on a more dependable method of payment or to arrange with the buyer that you will hold the cattle or product until the paying bank has cleared the funds. If the buyer can’t or won’t do this, it could signal a scam.
Use common sense. Is the buyer in a rush? Are they knowledgeable about what they’re buying? Do they want to forego other methods of secure payment?
Give the check a critical eye. Does it look fake? Are there misspellings? Is the paper poor quality or missing security features such as watermarks?
Don’t go over. Scammers sometimes offer a check over the purchase price and then request the seller to send them the overage via wire transfer or Western Union after the check has been deposited. Don’t accept a check written for an amount over the purchase price.
Stay local. If possible, ask for a cashier’s check written by a bank that has a local branch, so you can verify that it is real once it arrives. They might be in a better position to see if a check is genuine versus asking an unrelated bank.
Be fluent in banking. Know the difference between funds being available for withdrawal from your account, which usually happens within a day or so, and the paying bank clearing the funds. It could take a cashier’s check days or weeks to clear the paying bank.
Anytime a scam involves a cashier’s check, official check, or money order from a bank, and you believe that it could be counterfeit, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency recommends that you contact the issuing bank directly to report the check’s receipt and to verify authenticity. When contacting the bank, do not use the telephone number provided on the check because this number is probably not associated with a bank but rather with the scam artist.
If you have been victimized by a fraudulent check scam, call your police department and your TSCRA special ranger. To find your local special ranger, visit tscra.org or check in the back of any issue of The Cattleman magazine.
by Kristin Lewis Hawkins Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association