Can I accept a cashier's check without risking being scammed?
June 11, 2008 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Selling a chair to someone out of state (in Illinois). Despite instructions to either use paypal or a personal check, she mailed me a cashier's check. Any way to accept a cashier's check without risking being scammed?

I listed a chair on my local craigslist for $175. It's a sweet little antique and probably worth $300-400. Someone emailed me in Illinois and said it was exactly what she'd always wanted and she wanted to buy it. I told her shipping would be prohibitive, quoted Greyhound ($65) and UPS ($292) and she chose UPS, because she didn't want to have to pick it up from the Greyhound station.

I told her that I'd take paypal or a personal check only (though I didn't specifically say she COULDN'T send me a cashier's check) and a few minutes later got an email saying that she was going to send me a cashier's chek today.

I immediately replied back that a cashier's check was NOT an option that I would ONLY take paypal or personal checks. After an hour, I got a response that she had already bought a cashier's check and mailed it to me and asked me to please call her to work out how we could make this happen.

I googled her address and a man with her last name (on the email) and ship-to address is on the County Board of Commissioner's meeting agenda this year, and her area code is the right area code for the part of Illinois she's in. Is there any way to safely accept a cashier's check, or should I mail this back to her as soon as I get it?

posted by stewiethegreat to Work & Money (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The only thing you need to worry about is a forged check. This is true of both personal and cashiers. Cashier's checks have the advantage of them not being able to bounce. Theyre typically used for large purchases. Not sure why you think this person is performing a scam. You have less protection with paypal which can take money out anytime it wants.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:36 PM on June 11, 2008

Take it to the bank, deposit it. Wait 7 days. Mail the chair.
posted by bensherman at 1:36 PM on June 11, 2008

Can you ask her to send you more verification? Maybe a scan of her receipt from purchasing the cashier's check? Her willingness to pay that much shipping would put up some serious red flags for me - I probably wouldn't take the cashier's check (or a personal check, for that matter). She could be using someone else's name (or even her own!), but the fact that someone with a certain name exists in a certain part of Illinois isn't exactly a guarantee of legitimacy.
posted by robinpME at 1:37 PM on June 11, 2008

A cashier's check is a check from a bank teller. I think this is a lot more secure than money orders, which are easier to forge and harder to validate. If you receive it and it appears to be drawn on a legitimate bank, you can simply call them to verify its authenticity. If it's real, a cashier's check is actually riskier for the buyer, not you. Once they've received it, the money is out of their account already. You could cash it and not send the goods. If she sent you a personal check, she could stop payment on it and you wouldn't know until after you had sent the chair.
posted by autojack at 1:38 PM on June 11, 2008

Ask your bank how long it usually takes for a bad cashier's check to show up. Depending on the bank, they might tell you anything from a few days to a few weeks. Let the buyer know that you will hold the chair for that long.

Or simply tell her tough luck, and you'll be returning the check.

If she's older, she probably remembers a time when cashier's checks were better than personal checks because they cleared immediately and were considered guaranteed--which might explain why she chose a cashier's check instead of a personal check, or instead of paypal. Or she's scamming you.

As craigslist says, "DEAL LOCALLY WITH FOLKS YOU CAN MEET IN PERSON - follow this one simple rule and you will avoid 99% of the scam attempts on craigslist."
posted by sondrialiac at 1:46 PM on June 11, 2008

According to Snopes, the additional risk you bear with a cashier's check is this:
The scam works because the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) requires banks to make money from cashier's, certified, or teller's checks available in one to five days. Consequently, funds from checks that might not be good are often released into payees' accounts long before the checks have been honored by their issuing banks. High quality forgeries can be bounced back and forth between banks for weeks before anyone catches on to their being worthless....
Still, this doesn't seem like the typical cashier's-check scam described at that page. Forging a check will get them only the chair, not any cash. And if she really wanted to scam you out of a chair worth only a few hundred dollars, wouldn't she prefer Greyhound pickup to UPS delivery, which would mean you'd have at least some sort of address to go on if the check turned out to be fake? Especially if the meeting agenda seems to indicate that it is in fact a residential address.
posted by enn at 1:47 PM on June 11, 2008

I thought the check scam usually worked by someone sending a check for more than the purchase amount and asking for cash back, which the scammee trustingly sends before finding out the check is bad. Tell her you'll ship the chair as soon as you feel confident the check is good. As sondrialiac said, work with your bank on that question.
posted by not that girl at 1:55 PM on June 11, 2008

I didn't mean they couldn't be scammers just because the email address and phone number correspond to the address they gave me just that it is at least slightly less likely. They're not asking me to mail the chair to west Africa, or send me 6k for the $175 chair at least . . .
posted by stewiethegreat at 1:56 PM on June 11, 2008

It might not be a scam, but it sets of several of my scam sensors. Paying nearly $200 extra for the shipping would be one. The speed with which they said they had already sent out the cashiers check.

Since this is on Craigslist, at least you don't have to worry about potential negative feedback.
posted by drezdn at 2:15 PM on June 11, 2008

Paying nearly $200 extra for the shipping would be one.

But they're paying $175 for a chair that (according to the OP) is "probably worth $300-400". So paying extra for more convenient shipping isn't quite as outrageous.

I agree with the comments about building in as much time as possible between cashing the check and sending the chair (at least 7 business days, I'd say); if they balk at that, explain your reasoning, and if they still balk, tell them no chair for them.
posted by inigo2 at 2:36 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

The UPS doesn't sound fishy to me either if she's older/disabled/doesn't drive and possibly doesn't want to drive to the Greyhound station, carry/pack the chair, etc.

Not to mention the fact that Greyhound is often very, very late/unreliable.
posted by sondrialiac at 2:59 PM on June 11, 2008

Casher's checks are *not* automatically secure. A friend of mine got screwed when he received a cashier's check from what turned out to be a non-existent bank. By the time he found out, it was too late. This was before check 21, but it took several weeks for him to find out.
posted by bsdfish at 3:00 PM on June 11, 2008

Sondrialiac + inigo2, I'm hoping that's why she's adament about having it delivered to her house, and why she wanted it so much - it is a lovely Craftsman chair built by one of the better artisans in the Arts & Crafts movement and was appraised by an antique dealer at $400. It is lovely in a very genteel way that seems like it would appeal to an elderly lady.

So obviously I should wait before shipping, but how long? A week or four? It sounds like it is very much in the air.
posted by arnicae at 3:43 PM on June 11, 2008

Clarification - I'm OP's housemate who is in charge of posting the chair.
posted by arnicae at 3:48 PM on June 11, 2008

What was wrong with autojack's "call the bank" advice?
Look the bank up in the online yellow-pages or the chamber of commerce for the bank's town.
Call them up and ask if they issued check number XXX in the quantity of $XX.
If they issued the check, it's good. Cash it and send the chair.
posted by Richard Daly at 4:10 PM on June 11, 2008

Just call the bank that issued the check. If it's not forged, it's as good as money.
posted by gjc at 4:58 PM on June 11, 2008

Take the check, issued by bank X, to a branch of bank X, and cash it there. I would think this would eliminate any wait to see if it's good or not.

Then mail the chair after you have cash in hand.
posted by zippy at 5:11 PM on June 11, 2008

Could you please make sure to post how the whole thing turns out in the end...
posted by drezdn at 6:12 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Cashier's checks have the advantage of them not being able to bounce.

You can stop payment on a cashier's check, so they most certainly can bounce.
posted by oaf at 3:52 AM on June 12, 2008

Really? All I found was this provision on lost, stolen, and destroyed checks. The stop only works 90 days after it is issued. So if he cashes it before then it cannot be stopped.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:07 AM on June 12, 2008

So obviously I should wait before shipping, but how long? A week or four? It sounds like it is very much in the air.

Ask your bank, or the bank the check is drawn on, how long it takes for them to clear.
posted by sondrialiac at 7:54 AM on June 12, 2008

Ask her to send a USPS money order instead, and then cash it at the post office.
posted by cass at 8:16 AM on June 12, 2008

Did you go through the transaction? How did it turn out?
posted by drezdn at 6:21 AM on June 26, 2008

All worked out in the end - bank cashed it, her bank verified it, money is still in my account and the lady has her chair. Weird little episode.
posted by stewiethegreat at 8:10 AM on July 3, 2008

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