Summer brings tourists and visitors out to the scenic areas of Texas, and sometimes the guests take artwork, handcrafted goods and collectibles home with them from their trips. You may not find many buyers presenting you with a cashier’s check for a small-ticket item, but this method of payment has been considered solid and trustworthy for large-ticket items or from buyers who contact sellers online—until recently.
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 made sure to check with their bank to make sure the cashier’s check was legitimate. As it turned out, the check was a fake. But because the seller took the extra step of verifying this with his bank, he did not lose his cattle.
While this case deals with livestock, the same principles of caution apply to any transaction.
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, cashier’s checks don’t have the guaranteed safety they once had. Scammers have found ways to take advantage of honest sellers, and as technology advances, thieves can create fake checks with a home computer and printer that would fool most people.
So how do you make sure you’re not risking becoming a victim?
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 they 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 arrange with the buyer to 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 be because it’s 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 like watermarks?
- Don’t accept a check written for an amount over the purchase price. Scammers will 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.
- 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.
- Know the difference between funds being available for withdrawal from your account (usually this can happen quickly, within a business 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 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 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.
TSCRA has 30 special rangers stationed strategically throughout Texas and Oklahoma who have in-depth knowledge of the cattle industry and are trained in all facets of law enforcement. All are commissioned as Special Rangers by the Texas Department of Public Safety and/or the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
TSCRA is a 140-year-old trade association and is the largest and oldest livestock organization based in Texas. TSCRA has more than 17,500 beef cattle operations, ranching families and businesses as members. These members represent approximately 55,000 individuals directly involved in ranching and beef production who manage 4 million head of cattle on 76 million acres of range and pasture land primarily in Texas and Oklahoma, but throughout the Southwest.
Kristin Lewis Hawkins works for Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) as web content manager and editor of The Cattleman Update, a daily cattle industry newsletter. She also writes columns, articles and feature stories for The Cattleman magazine, TSCRA’s monthly publication. Kristin has been with TSCRA for 18 years, starting as receptionist and moving to the communications department in 2007. Kristin is a sixth-generation Texan with deep roots in agriculture. She has one daughter, Amy, and lives in Fort Worth.