Happy Ending: Always Look A Gift Check In The Mouth

There’s a happy ending to our story, “Always Look A Gift Check In The Mouth” about the guy who opened up a new bank account just to deposit a check he thought might be fraudulent and indeed, turned out to be. Fred writes:

My brother went to the bank last Friday to talk to the branch manager about his situation which I emailed you about 2 weeks ago. The bank reported the check as fraud, not my brother. His account was cancelled because it was opened with a bad check, and he was charged $10 for depositing a bounced check. There was nothing that was entered as a negative mark on his credit report, and the case is pretty much closed.

The manager even went so far as to type up and sign a memo explaining that it was not my brothers fault and that there should be nothing against him on his credit report.

The Wachovia branch manager also offered to open a new account for him.

So, phew! None of the bad things that could have happened to Fred’s brother actually happened, like:

  • The bank could have pressed fraud charges against him.
  • He could have been reported to the FBI.
  • A report could have been sent to Chexsystems and made it hard for him to get a new bank account or keep his new one.

So remember, always be extremely suspicious when you get an unexpected check whose provenance you’re uncertain about. If you bring it to the bank and deposit it, they’re not necessarily going to to thank you for bringing it to their attention. Just ask Matthew Shinnick.

PREVIOUSLY: Always Look A Gift Check In The Mouth (Photo: Getty)


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  1. Farquar says:

    “If you bring it to the bank, they’re unlikely to thank you for bringing it to their attention.”

    I’m not sure I get this part.. I’ve multiple times taken a suspicious check or money order into my bank and asked them to verify its authenticity before I deposited it. They have always been happy to do so.

    • @Farquar: I think that should read “If you attempt to deposit it…”

    • Treasurer says:

      You personally cannot ask a bank that you do not bank at to verify that the funds are in the account with the new security laws. Banks in our area do not want to verify for you….just because of the time it takes. So, you are at the mercy of the “other” bank. But basically, if you accept a check that could be iffy, it is your problem.

  2. mamacat49 says:

    so, without taking it to the bank and asking, just how are you supposed to verify it? Ouija board?

    • econobiker says:

      @mamacat49: call the business or person issuing it, call the issuing bank, bring it to an issuing outlet, probably more ways than that

      • mac-phisto says:

        @kepler11: i’m not aware of any “instant check verification” that exists within the banking industry at this time. this is a common misconception that many people have.

        the timeline has been reduced significantly by the check 21 act – many checks can complete their life cycle in <24 hours. the problem is that check 21 is voluntary & the cost of entry is quite expensive. the technology, training, certification & compliance required to establish electronic check clearing at the bank or branch level takes a significant investment. as a result, many smaller institutions utilize the traditional clearing houses b/c frankly, it’s cheaper (even considering their increased exposure to check fraud).

        also, even though the timeline allows checks to clear quicker, keep in mind that many of these “bad checks” are drawn on real accounts & depositors have up to 60 days to catch & dispute fraudulent items on their accounts. until the account holder discovers the fraud, there’s no way for a bank to determine that it’s a fraudulent item.

        as for ‘why do we tolerate it?’, simply put, it’s because we have rights under the law when it comes to our accounts (specifically, privacy & the right to dispute fraudulent items on our account up to 60 days from the date it clears). unless you’re willing to relinquish those rights (you shouldn’t be), expect very little to change.

    • crashfrog says:

      @mamacat49: You’re supposed to bury it in your yard and never look at it again, duh.

      Also, you should never spend a dollar unless you’re sure it’s not counterfeit. Better burn all your money just to be safe. I mean, you’re just a private citizen with no ability to assess the validity of funds and instruments, so naturally it falls solely to you to address the nation’s issues with counterfeit currency and fraud. I mean, banks are far too busy making millions by selling your mortgage to have the time to deal with such trivialities.

      • godlyfrog says:

        @crashfrog: A check isn’t the bank’s responsibility in any way. Essentially, it’s an agreement between you and the person who gave it to you that you would accept it in lieu of cash on the promise that they have money in an account at the bank the check has written on it. If you don’t trust the person giving you the check, then you should demand cash instead.

  3. ecwis says:

    They never said that they bank wouldn’t report it to ChexSystems. They just said it won’t go on his “credit report”.

    • stopNgoBeau says:

      @ecwis: Bad checks don’t go on your credit report. Only if you owed the bank money and the ended up writing off the account.

      ChexSystems is the “credit report” for banks.

  4. JN2 says:

    I just point blank ask the sketchy looking dude who rode up to me with a $50 check on a bicycle carrying tools and car stereos in the basket asking me if I would cashthe check for him if it is good or not.

    What’s so hard about that?

  5. Tank says:

    whenever i wanted to verify a check, i called the bank the check was DRAWN ON, to see if: a) the account was valid, and b) the check would clear. saved me metric fucktons of bullshit.

  6. Amy Alkon000 says:

    Depositing any check in your account means that the person who wrote it to you will have your account number on the back when it’s cancelled. My account number and a fake driver’s license with my name and some other lady’s picture (and the wrong expiration date) were all it took for thieves to get Bank of America’s tellers to give them $12,000 of my money on seven separate occasions. All banks don’t seem to be like this. I think, per an investigation I’ve been doing since this was perpetrated on me, that Bank of America customers should be expecially careful not to write checks to strangers or to let anyone see their account number.

    Identity theft is THE fastest growing crime in America.

    I suggest everyone consider freezing their credit bureau accounts. Google your state’s name and “security freeze.” A fraud alert is not enough – and P.S. What Lifeline does is put continuing fraud alerts on your account — which you can do yourself. The reason a fraud alert is not enough is that your credit is not always checked for one by those granting credit.

    P.S. The $30 I spent ($10 per credit bureau) to freeze my credit bureau accounts (making it impossible to get credit without a PIN only I have) is by far and away the best $30 I have ever spent.

    • @Amy Alkon: A fraud alert is only appropriate when you are actually dealing with fraud. You could freeze your reports in an effort to be more secure, but really, if this is something a person is concerned about they would be better off getting a thorough understanding of the credit industry instead.

  7. TPK says:

    Yeah, I still don’t see how this is not just another case of “blaming the victim” here… Maybe this victim wasn’t the smartest guy, but hey, exactly one half of all the people in the world are below average…

    Why would all these “bad things that could have happened” be a risk for someone who did not purposefully try to commit a crime?

    Last time I checked, they still haven’t passed that law against being stupid!

    • closed_account says:

      @TPK: The previous posts stated that they very much suspected the checks authenticity if I recall correctly.

    • BugDude10 says:

      @TPK: TPK, I don’t know how often you get out of the house, but *way* more than half the people in the world are below average. (I haven’t studied it, but my rough estimate would be about 85%.)

  8. kepler11 says:

    how is it that we are still relying on a century old technology of paper checks, where you don’t find a check may be bad until weeks later? How do banks these days, with their instant check verification, electronic networks, etc., allow you to deposit a bad check? Isn’t this just wasting everyone’s time and money — yours, the bank’s — when there must be ways to verify it instantly?

    Can anyone explain how this is still possible, and why we tolerate it?

  9. jwissick says:

    “The Wachovia branch manager also offered to open a new account for him.”

    That one check is prolly what sent Wachovia over the edge and needing a bail out.

  10. Yurei says:

    I just tore up a check for $3,990 dollars tonight with a letter that screamed “scam”. It came from Markham, Ontario allegedly, (I live in NH) and didn’t have business class mail postage, but a regular stamp, plus it was some sort of crazy “job opportunity”. allegedly they saw my resume on monster.com or somehting and wanted me to be a regional customer service evaluator rep, i had to take some sort of paid training and get certified with it within 48 hours, after which point i’d be paid $200 an hour for the training. Then it involved something to do with “testing walmart’s money gram system” which I assume was what the check was for.

    Needless to say, I dropped that like a flaming bag o poo.

    • quail says:

      @Yurei: If you still have the check and the envelope at all you should take it to your post office. It’s mail fraud. The postmaster will get it to the right department and if at all possible they’ll use it to build a case. Not likely, but who knows.

      I got a similar check two years ago from Canada. Different bait in the letter, but I’m sure mine had the same broken English that yours did. Postmaster added it to his pile for me.

    • jwissick says:

      @Yurei: Yes. that is a scam. Not new. It happens often. If they have an address they will send you a check and ask you to ‘mystery shop’.

  11. RomeoDove says:

    Well I am Fred, first off thank you for your replies, it was very helpful in giving my brother advice. We did call the bank that the check was drawn on, and the funds were available, but the check wasnt a real check, just because there is money available doesnt mean the check is real. All it takes is the bank routing number, and a really good printer.

    Our guess as to what happened is that someone inside the company were he applied for the grant saw his application, and figured out a way to get some info from that.