Always Look A Gift Check In The Mouth

Fred writes:

My brother who is a junior at college sent out a bunch of applications for college grants and other sources of funding to pay for his education. Late this summer he received a check in the mail sent to him from one of the organizations that he sent an application to. The check wasn’t huge, but the $3500 would come in handy, and certainly would have been a huge help in paying for his books, and housing. When the check actually came in the mail it was just a check, nothing else, no letter of congratulations, explanation or anything else telling him why he had received the money…

I told him he should open up a new bank account so that if it was a fake check, any possible thief’s would not get his information and take the rest of the money from his account. He just found out that I was right. He got a phone call from the bank (Wachovia) letting him know that the check was a fake, and that his account (which only contained the money from that one check) was closed due to fraud. They also told him that he has been reported to the FBI, and that the information would be noted on his credit report.

He wasn’t really able to get any clear answers from the bank which more or less gave him a corporate run around by not answering anything. I was wondering if it would be a negative thing on his credit report, or if it is just a fraud notice that was placed there. If it is a negative mark against him what can he do to get it removed. Also what are the possible
damages he could face if it was actually fraud.

First off, I hope your brother didn’t take any money out of the account, otherwise he’s going to have to pay it back.

He should check out his credit report to see what if anything got reported – lets you check all your credit reports for free. I think the only thing they would put there is that his account was closed. If money was taken out, then the report will show that the account was closed in the negative. That will be a “minus” on the credit report, and not something that your brother will be able to dispute and get taken off.

I’m surprised the check didn’t come with a letter requesting that a portion of it be mailed somewhere else. That’s usually how the scam that this sounds like, advance fee fraud, operates. Maybe that part got lost in the mail.

Opening a new account just for the check was half-smart, and all stupid. It would have been better to have just asked the organization for more information and make the determination from that, rather than open a checking account for a check that the two of you had a pretty decent idea could be bogus. Provided he didn’t take out any money from the account, your brother was protected in case the check turned out to be fake, but if the bank decided to be hardasses, they can press charges for check fraud against your brother. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.

(Photo: Getty)