Cashier Check Fraud
OCC CONSUMER ADVISORY ON AVOIDING CASHIER’S CHECK FRAUD
Many consumers have become victims of scams involving a fraudulent
cashier’s check. A cashier’s check is a check that is issued by a bank,
and sold to its customer or another purchaser, that is a direct
obligation of the bank. Cashier’s checks are viewed as relatively
risk-free instruments and, therefore, are often used as a trusted form
of payment to consumers for goods and services.
However, cashier’s checks lately have become an attractive vehicle
for fraud when used for payments to consumers. Although the amount of a
cashier’s check quickly becomes “available” for withdrawal by the
consumer after the consumer deposits the check, these funds do not
belong to the consumer if the check proves to be fraudulent. It may
take weeks to discover that a cashier’s check is fraudulent. In the
meantime, the consumer may have irrevocably wired the funds to a scam
artist or otherwise used the funds – only to find out later, when the
fraud is detected – that the consumer owes the bank the full amount of
the cashier’s check that had been deposited.
Each scam involving a fraudulent cashier’s check may be different, but some of the more common scenarios are:
- Selling goods–You sell goods in the marketplace – for
example, over the Internet. A buyer sends you a cashier’s check for the
price that you have agreed on, and you ship the goods to the buyer. The cashier’s check turns out to be fraudulent.
- Excess of purchase price–This scenario is similar to the one
described above. However, the buyer sends you a cashier’s check for
more than the purchase price and asks you to wire some or all of the
excess to a third party, often in a foreign country. The buyer may
explain that this procedure allows the buyer to satisfy its obligations
to you and the third party with a single check. The cashier’s check
turns out to be fraudulent.
- Unexpected windfall–You receive a letter informing you that
you have the right to receive a substantial sum of money. For example,
the letter may state that you have won a foreign lottery or are the
beneficiary of someone’s estate. The letter will state that you have to
pay a processing/transfer tax or fee before you receive the money, but
a cashier’s check will be enclosed to cover that fee. The letter will
ask you to deposit the cashier’s check into your account and wire the
fee to a third party, often in a foreign country. The cashier’s check
turns out to be fraudulent.
- Mystery shopping–You receive a letter informing you that you
have been chosen to act as a mystery shopper. The letter includes a
cashier’s check, and you are told to deposit the check into your
account. You are told to use a portion of the funds to purchase
merchandise at designated stores, transfer a portion of the funds to a
third party using a designated wire service company, and keep the
remainder. The cashier’s check turns out to be fraudulent.
Scams also may involve other types of checks. For example, the
fraudulent check may appear to be written on the account of a real
person or company or be written on an account that contains
insufficient funds to cover the check. Other scams involve fraudulent
postal service money orders or fraudulent money orders that appear to
have been issued by a bank.
The result of these scams is that the fraudulent check will be
returned unpaid. The bank will then deduct the amount of the check from
your account or otherwise seek repayment from you, and you will lose
either the goods that you sold, the money that you sent to the third
party, or both.
What is a fraudulent cashier’s check?
A cashier’s check is a
check issued by a bank and payable to a specific person. Because a
cashier’s check is issued by a bank, itself, the cashier’s check is
paid by funds of the bank and not the depositor. Therefore, if an item
is genuine, there is very little risk that the instrument will be
Sometimes, however, a cashier’s check is not genuine, and, if you
unknowingly accept a fraudulent cashier’s check in exchange for goods
or services, you will likely be the one who suffers the financial loss.
How can you tell if a cashier’s check is fraudulent?
be very difficult for either you or your bank to tell. When you deposit
a check into your account, your bank generally is required by law to
make the funds available within a specific period of time (usually, one
business day for a cashier’s check or other official instrument).This
is true even if the check has not yet cleared through the banking
system. Therefore, even if the funds have been made available in your
account, you cannot be certain that the check has cleared or is “good.”
Your bank also may not be able to determine that the check is
fraudulent when you deposit it. Rather, your bank may learn of the
problem only when the check is returned unpaid by the other bank –
which may take a couple weeks or more. Scammers try to make the item
look genuine, which will delay discovery of the fraud. Once the item
has been returned unpaid, your bank, generally, will be able to reverse
the deposit to your account and collect the amount of the deposit from
What are your rights?
If you find yourself in this situation,
you ordinarily would have a remedy against the person who wrote the
check. However, you will have great difficulty pursuing any remedy
against these scammers, especially if they reside in a foreign country
or have disguised their identities.
Tips for Avoiding Cashier’s Check Fraud
- Try to know the people with whom you do business. When possible,
verify information about the buyer from an independent third party such
as a telephone directory. Be cautious about accepting checks – even a
cashier’s check – from people that you do not know, especially since it
may be difficult to pursue a remedy if the transaction goes wrong.
- When you use the Internet to sell goods or services, consider other
options such as escrow services or online payment systems rather than
payment by a cashier’s check.
- If you do accept a cashier’s check for payment, never
accept a check for more than your selling price if you are expected to
pay the excess to someone else. Ask yourself why the buyer would be
willing to trust you, who may be a perfect stranger, with funds that
properly belong to a third party.
- A cashier’s check is less risky than other types of checks only if the item is genuine. If you can, ask for a cashier’s check drawn on a bank with a branch in your area.
- If you want to find out whether a check is genuine, call or visit
the bank on which the check is written. That bank will be in a better
position to tell you whether the check is one they issued and is
- Know the difference between funds being available for withdrawal
from your account and a check having finally cleared. Your bank may be
required by law to make funds available to you even if the check has
not yet cleared. However, it could take several weeks to know if the
check will clear or not.
If you have become victimized by a fraudulent check scam, please follow these guidelines:
Anytime a scam involves a cashier’s check, official check, or money
order from a bank, and you believe that it could be counterfeit; you
should contact the issuing bank directly to report receipt of the check
and to verify authenticity. When contacting the bank, do not
use the telephone number provided on the instrument, as this number is
probably not associated with the bank, but rather with the scam
To locate a bank’s mailing address, you can check the FDIC’s Web site at:
In addition to contacting the appropriate banks, there are others
whom you also should notify if you receive a counterfeit item. They
- Scams, generally–Federal Trade Commission (FTC): by telephone at 1-877-FTC-HELP or file an electronic complaint via their Internet site at www.ftc.gov.
- Internet-based scams–Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Internet Fraud Complaint Center: www.ic3.gov.
- Mail-based scams–U.S. Postal Inspector Service: by telephone
at 1-888-877-7644, by mail at U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Office of
Inspector General, Operations Support Group, 222 S. Riverside Plaza,
Suite 1250, Chicago, IL 60606-6100 or via e-mail at http://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/contactUs/filecomplaint.aspx.