Seller Beware: Don’t Accept Counterfeit Cashier Checks

Counterfeit cashier check scams are on the rise, and fake cashier’s checks are difficult for even banks to identify. There are, however, a few tell-tale signs you can look for to keep from falling victim to this scam.

I love criminal stories, and was amused by the story of a criminal who was arrested after he passed a counterfeit cashier’s check to a Minnesota cell phone distributor.

The distributor became suspicious after noticing that payment was made via a $2,359.45 “cahier’s” check. Yes, the arch-criminal misspelled cashier.

Compounding his error, he provided the cell phone distributor with a phony shipping address that was in fact the address of the FBI office in Monroe, Louisiana. The phone company called the FBI and the FBI in turn called the local police.

Incredibly, the FBI agents in Monroe saw the suspect flag down the delivery truck from their office windows. The agents went out and detained the suspect until the Monroe police arrived. The Monroe police arrested him and charged him with two acts of forgery. The police and the FBI later discovered that the suspect was a fugitive from Georgia, where he was wanted for another cashier check scheme.

RELATED: Counterfeit Money: How to Spot Fake Bills

Law enforcement agencies report that counterfeit cashier check scams are on the rise. Crooks across the country are using counterfeit cashier’s checks to purchase merchandise, including high-end products like cars and boats.

Law enforcement officers warn of counterfeit cashier’s check scams where a merchant receives an e-mail from a “buyer” offering to purchase his products. In many cases, the buyer states he or she is from a foreign country, and the buyer states they intend to make payment using an “official” cashier’s check drawn on a United States bank.

The buyer notes that the check is made out for an amount way above the negotiated purchase price. Often the buyer will explain the price discrepancy by stating that they received the check by a third party who owed them money. The buyer asks the merchant to return the difference between the purchase price and the check. Only after the merchant wires the extra amount to the buyer, they learn from their bank that the check was counterfeit and that they must return the full amount to the bank.

Law enforcement officers say this scheme works because the counterfeit cashier’s checks are difficult to detect, even by the banks that are clearing and cashing the checks. Enhanced computer technology has enabled crooks to produce very convincing counterfeit currency and checks, often using only a PC and a printer.

The U.S. Treasury Department protects paper currency with standard paper, ink, design and security features, but each bank’s cashier’s checks are individually designed. Each bank uses different paper, designs, and security features, and this wide disparity appeals to crooks.

RELATED: How to Protect Your Business from Credit Card Fraud

To avoid being a victim of a counterfeit cashier’s check, law enforcement recommends the following steps:

  • Inspect the cashier’s check.
  • Ensure the amount of the check matches in figures and words.
  • Check to see that the account number is not shiny in appearance.
  • Be watchful that the drawer’s signature is not traced.
  • Official checks are generally perforated on at least one side.
  • Inspect the check for additions, deletions, or other alterations.
  • Contact the financial institution on which the check was drawn to ensure legitimacy.
  • Obtain the bank’s telephone number from a reliable source, not from the check itself.
  • Be cautious when dealing with individuals outside of your own country.

While the U.S. Secret Service is mostly associated with presidential protection, its original mission in 1865 was to investigate the counterfeiting of U.S. currency, which it continues to do today. The Secret Service’s primary investigative role is to safeguard the payment and financial systems of the United States and to preserve the integrity of United States currency, coin and financial obligations. In 1984 the Secret Service’s responsibilities were expanded to include crimes that involve financial institution fraud, computer and telecommunications fraud, false identification documents, access device fraud, advance fee fraud, electronic funds transfers and money laundering.

If you suspect you have received a counterfeit cashier’s check, or you are being offered one, you can contact your local police, or you can call the U.S. Secret Service at (202) 406-5850. You can also write to: U.S. Secret Service, Financial Crimes Division, 950 H Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20223.

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