HSBC Tells You To Cash An Obviously Fake Check

Over at InfoWorld they have a story from a guy who was trying to sell something on Craigslist, and because he is savvy in the ways of the internet, did not fall for an obvious “overpayment scheme.”

(In an “overpayment scheme” you agree to sell an item for a small amount of money like, $75, to a scammer posing as an interested customer. The scammer sends you a fake check for a large amount of money, then asks you to send back the difference. You do it, and the check turns out to be fake. Old as the hills.)

“The check was drawn against HSBC bank,” the reader wrote. “I called their support line and explained the situation. They told me to deposit the check and see if it cleared. I asked ‘Let me get this straight. I know the check is fake. You know it’s fake. Yet you are telling me to deposit it and commit a felony?’ ‘Well sir,’ they said ‘we can’t tell you if it’s fake or not until you deposit it.’ ‘I know it’s fake. I’ve told you it’s fake. Someone is creating counterfeit checks drawn on your bank.’ ‘Sir, we can’t know that until you deposit it.’ Pathetic.”

The reader then tried to report the fraud to the company whose account information was faked on the check – a New York City foreign exchange dealer, not all of whom are above suspicion themselves. “I was told pretty much the same thing by them – I should go ahead and try to cash it. What the heck is going on? Supposedly these people are concerned with check fraud and theft, yet they tell me to break the law by trying to cash a fake check!”

InfoWorld’s reader tries (in vain) to get anyone at Craigslist or HSBC to help him catch the scammer.

I spent almost an hour on the phone with the bank and the rep for the foreign exchange outfit. Neither really gave a damn. Now I’m wondering who’s the bigger fool — the person who falls for these scams, or the person who tries to fight back.”

Fighting back doesn’t make you a fool, but you shouldn’t bother trying to report a crime as a customer service issue. Check fraud is a crime and HSBC is a bank.

To report a check fraud crime, contact your local FBI field office. For example, if you are in Chicago, you would call the Chicago Division Headquarters at (312) 421-6700. It might not turn into an episode of Law & Order or anything, but you’ll know that you’ve done your best.

Cash Fraudulent Check, Says HSBC [Info World]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Fighting back doesn’t make you a fool, but you shouldn’t bother trying to report a crime as a customer service issue.

    Right, but CSRs still shouldn’t be telling people to commit felonies just to make sure on their end it’s a fake check. They should have either told them who to talk to in their company (if there is someone to talk to about fraud) or told him to call the police.

  2. That’s what you get when you outsource your support line to India..

    My mom has worked for HSBC for 17 years and would never tell any of her customers that. She also loathes having to call the support line. I’ve seen her cringe when it comes down to it.

  3. G-Dog says:

    Once I received a check for 2K saying I won a contest sponsored by some hotel chain. All I had to do was cash the check and send them $500 of the winnings so they could send me the rest of the money I won, or something to that effect.

    Knowing this to be a scam, I wrote them a return letter that had been rubbed all over parts of my body that nobody would ever want to touch. The text of the letter described how I’m not an idiot, what body parts I rubbed the letter on, and the technique I used.

  4. That’s truly insane. Were they also offering to cover the fees the guy’s bank would charge him for depositing a bad check as well as indemnify him from any criminal charges?

  5. Black Bellamy says:

    That fake check you handled already was rubbed by sweaty Nigerian balls. So it’s not like you got over on them, just even.

  6. clevershark says:

    It’s absolutely unconscionable for HSBC to tell the customer this. Not only would the depositor’s account likely be frozen as a result (there’ll be all kinds of red flags raised) but there will be a fraud investigation which might end up costing the depositor dearly. And when you deposit a fraudulent check you’re the one who has to pay all sorts of fees as a result (I know this from having gotten scammed once for a small amount).

    So the guy’s bank is advising him to do something which will cost him money and possibly get him in a lot of trouble. That CSR really should be fired, but fat chance that THAT will happen.

  7. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    So…what happens if you deposit the check, and just don’t do anything with the funds? Wouldn’t they just credit the account, then debit that same ammount? Can the bank charge the customer anything?

  8. @AlteredBeast: Just trying to deposit a fake check is fraud.

  9. DearEditor says:

    When the CSR tells you to cash the bad cheque, does that act become conspiracy to commit fraud?

    I’ll bet the FBI has a guy at a desk with a thousand of these cheques and stories in his inbox. I hope he has a rich personal life.

  10. iheartconsumerist says:

    Yes the bank can and probably will charge you – How much depends on the bank. Wamu for example will charge you $10 if you deposit a check that does no clear, regardless of weather you use the funds or not.

  11. Chongo says:

    Didn’t some guy in San Fran have the same problem and then he got arrested?

  12. QuantumRiff says:

    My brother got one of these a few years ago for $35,000, went down to the bank, told the teller he thought it was a forged check, but wasn’t sure, and tried to make clear he just wanted to know if the account was valid. They asked him to have a seat, and they’d look into it. Minutes later, he was surrounded by the manager, 2 bank security officers, 4 cops, and a secret service agent. They all followed him home and the secret service agent pulled all email correspondence he had with the “business man” to a disk for study. He still lived with my mom, and the neighbors wasted no time asking why so many law enforcement cars were in front of her house while she was at work. On the plus side, they stamped the check “VOID” and let him keep it. Its now framed in his office

  13. theblackdog says:

    @QuantumRiff: Now that’s a great conversation piece.

  14. forever_knight says:

    @QuantumRiff: did he ever hear anything more about it? i want the rest of the story!

  15. MyCokesBiggerThanYours says:

    How else would the bank know it’s fake? Just from this guy’s word. There absolutely no reason for the bank to trust this guy as an authority.

  16. LionelEHutz says:

    Why not just tell the guy to take it to an HSBC branch (or another bank) to have its authenticity verified prior to cashing?

  17. Crymson_77 says:

    @LionelEHutz: That would be because that is also fraud. If you even THINK a check is fake, call your bank on the TELEPHONE and verify that way. If you bring a check into the bank you can be arrested on a felony charge for doing so!

  18. FF_Mac says:

    @Crymson_77: Uhhhhh..yeah. Intersting theory there. If I carry a check I think is fake into the bank and turn it over to them for investigation, I’m guilty of a felony? I hope you’re not a lawyer.

    If you think a check is fraudulent, you can also contact your local police department.

  19. Crymson_77 says:

    @FF_Mac: Actually, yes. Seeing as I work for a bank, I would probably know…ya know? It falls under that wonderful “presenting of a known fraudulent monetary device” thingy that makes you go boom…got it now?

  20. Bungus Aurelius says:

    @Crymson_77: Wow, I hope your job working at a bank doesn’t involve reading comprehension. First, “presenting” an instrument means presenting it for payment, it doesn’t mean handing it to someone and asking a question about it. Second, and even more obvious, if you hand over a check that you suspect is fraudulent and ASK if it’s fraudulent, then you most certainly haven’t knowingly presented a fraudulent instrument.

  21. ed1chandler says:

    You know, I had something similar happen once. Someone gave me a check I figured would bounce so I went to their bank and asked them to tell me if there were sufficient funds to clear the check. They said there wasn’t, but I couldn’t do anything about it until I tried to cash it. The police told me the same thing. Apparently writing a rubber check isn’t a crime until someone tries to cash it.

  22. nycguy says:

    You get the runaround until you realize that you nee to talk to the bank’s fraud department. They are the only ones who know how to deal with these problems.

    I had a similar problem getting some fraudulent direct withdrawals undone from my aged mother’s checking accont. I got “there’s nothing we cando” unrtil I asked for the fraud department—they solved the problem immediately.

  23. aces961 says:

    First of all if the HSBC Customer Service Rep had actually been able to tell you if that was a real check I would been amazed. The only way I could see you getting an answer is if the Routing and/or account number was wrong.

    There are three type of checking accounts. Ones for individuals and maybe some very small businesses where you do not have to provide banks with the check numbers and amounts of checks before you write them and the bank will process pretty much any check drawn on the account initially. It is up to the owner of the account to make sure that the checks are valid after they have shown up on their statement.

    The second type is positve pay accounts. In this case a large business will notify the bank of each check they write before they do so and for the bank to cash any check not on this list the company has to approve the check manually.

    The third type is reverse positve pay, where the company is sent a list of checks presented the previous day and must allow all these the next morning.

    Now that those terms are out there I’d be quite horrified if a CSR could have actually answered your quesiton if the account number was real. This would mean the account was positive pay and that the CSR had access to a list of outstanding checks on the account. If the CSR could look this up on the account you sent in they could look this up on other accounts. A check list like this for an account that writes thousands of checks a month is pretty much what people who commit check fraud dream of. If the check number and dollar amount of a check are correct nothing else about the check will ever be looked at unless it is presented a second time. Getting a list of check numbers and amounts for checks over 90 days old for a large checking account would be like the holy grail for these people. I would also not expect a CSR to even know who they could possibly transfer you to who could answer your question.

    If the account is reverse positive pay then the bank would not be able to tell you if the check is real since they do not receive the amounts of checks until they go to confirm checks with the company in question the next day.

    If the account does not have either type of positive pay then the bank also would not be able to tell you if it is a valid check.

    The only way for the CSR to actually be able to answer your question of is this a valid check would be to call the authorized signer or company whose account number was on the check and finding out if it is valid.

  24. RvLeshrac says:

    At least he wasn’t arrested for it.


  25. Apeweek says:

    HSBC customer service is the pinnacle of uselessness. I know because I once spent three fruitless months trying to resolve a problem. Eventually it dawned on me that they were just saying whatever was necessary to get me off the phone.

  26. scoosdad says:

    Once, Comcast sent me a refund check for the exact amount I was expecting, but was made out in someone else’s name (but with my account number). When I called them to ask them to send out a new check in my name, an endless stream of CS reps advised me to just sign my name to the back of the check and deposit it, that “no one would catch it”.

    I decided it wasn’t worth the risk to my reputation or credit, and I eventually tore up the check.

  27. Crymson_77 says:

    @nicomacus: By asking if it is fraudulent, you open the door for this law to bite you in the ass. Just placing it on the counter at the bank is considered presenting a fraudulent instrument. This is the law, as unfortunate as it is, and there is nothing we can do about it. Try it some time and insist on them checking it, then call a lawyer from jail, not me, when the police arrest you for doing so…

  28. Bungus Aurelius says:

    @Crymson_77: Fully agree that if I were to “try it” with something that I know to be fraudulent then I would have some problems. But the issue was whether a check written to me, for payment that is owed to me, but that has certain similarities to known check fraud schemes, will cause me to be arrested if I walk into a bank and ask them about it.

    You say it’s against the law. I’m guessing you’re talking about section 1344, but if not then which law do you mean? If you just read through the annotations for 1344 you’ll see the sorts of things that can rise up to fraud. For example, in US v Peters there was enough circumstantial evidence to think the guy committed fraud – a check for $90k that he wasn’t expecting and didn’t know he was entitled to, half spent within two weeks, etc. Compare that US v Isaiah, where the woman did less than what we’re talking about – didn’t even ask in a situation that should have screamed fraud – and was acquitted of fraud. Telling someone in person that you suspect you’re being defrauded (and being asked to defraud the bank) won’t get you arrested. More likely what will happen will be what happened to Quantumriff’s brother.

  29. Crymson_77 says:

    @nicomacus: I would hope that is all that would happen. Two items of support:
    1) Recent bank policy has been adopted allowing for this law and we are to advise customers not to place the check on the counter and to please call the 1-800 number as we are trying to protect them from legal issues.
    2)A friend was recently “informed” by an onsite officer at a bank that if he placed the check on the counter and asked if it could be checked, it would be considered presenting a fraudulent item.
    I should have been more specific as this happened in the state of Texas. There are more than just Federal laws to consider when speaking of fraud, state laws apply too. Check your state law regarding fraud and I will bet you that you will find the same clause, thereby having a similar issue. You are far better off calling the 800 number for either bank and attempting to verify that way. Record the calls so that you show an effort to verify, and if they can’t or won’t, deposit the check as at that point you have done your due diligence to verify the status of the check. If it is found to be fraudulent after that point, you are protected by your attempts to verify the check. Please keep in mind that IANAL, but I stayed at Holiday Inn Express last night…