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Detecting a Fake Cashier’s Check

Cashier’s checks are often regarded as a trusted form of payment because they’re issued by and direct obligations of a bank. Scammers know that people are more likely to trust and accept a cashier’s check over a personal check, so they have been using sophisticated equipment to scan and print counterfeits. By the time you deposit the check and the fraud is detected, they’re long gone.

Scammers use counterfeit cashier’s checks in a few different scenarios:

1. Buying items online. If you’re selling something on eBay or Craigslist, a scammer may offer to send a cashier’s check as a form of purchase. They’ll usually do this for a higher-ticket item, such as a car, boat, etc. They send the check, and you deliver the item. Then you find out a week later that the check was a fake, meaning you gave them the item for free.

2. Buying items for more than the asking price. This is very similar to scenario No. 1, except they send a check that’s made out for more than the amount you’re asking. They instruct you to wire them the difference and ship the item. When it’s discovered the check is a fake, you’re out the money you wired over and the item you sent.

3. Mystery shopping. A common scam we’ve seen lately involves mystery shopping. The fraudsters send a letter with a cashier’s check that is supposed to cover the cost of the items you shop for, as well as payment for your services. You’re supposed to wire back any remaining funds. Guess what? The check was a fake, and now you’re on the hook for the items you purchased and the funds that you wired.

4. You’ve won a prize. Similar to scenario No. 3, the scammer sends you a letter saying that you’ve won some money—all you have to do to claim your cashier’s check is verify your information and send them a small amount of money. Then they ask for some more money. Then a little more. When you stop sending it in, they disappear.

What you can do

You often can’t tell just by looking at a cashier’s check whether it’s real or fake. If any of these scenarios sounds familiar, be suspicious. Pay particularly close attention if you don’t know the buyer or entity sending the check.

Instead of depositing the check and hoping the funds clear, call the issuing bank and ask them to verify that the name on the check is a client and that the funds are legitimately available. Find the phone number independently—if it’s a fake, the number on the check will redirect to the scammers. If the bank that issued the cashier’s check has a local branch, visit in person to verify the funds and cash it on the spot.

Steve Kopman can be reached at 865-602-3601 or by email at steve.kopman@pnfp.com.

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