Eight years . . .

Eight years ago this month my husband and I became victims of a counterfeit cashier’s check scam when our bank told us that a cashier’s check we received was good, clear, verified and that we would have no problems with it.  Off of that information, we went forward with a transaction.  One week later the bank contacted us to let us know that the check was counterfeit, and that WE were 100% liable for the money . . . even though they had told us it was good, clear and verified.
It was this situation that brought us to create the website ScamVictimsUnited.com, where we warn people about scams, offer resources and advice, and allow people to talk with other victims on our message board.  In the first two years of our site being operational we helped stop over $2 million dollars from going into scams.

Now, you would think that eight years later things would have changed.  Some things have, but even today we see victims coming to our site who brought these checks to the bank and were told that they were good, clear or verified . . . sometimes by more than one bank employee . . . so the exact same situation that happened to us eight years ago is still happening to people today.
Until laws can be changed to hold the banks accountable for telling the customers that these checks are good, clear and verified and then later hold the bank customer liable when it comes back that they are NOT a true check, education is the best way we have to fight these scams.

What can you do?

Write to your law makers and tell them that you want to see banks held liable for releasing funds on checks that they have told customers are good, clear or verified, and then later reversed those words to hold the customer liable.

Sign our petition to ask for stronger consumer protection laws.  If the banks are liable for the money lost, and not the customer, then they will change their practices and make SURE that every penny is accounted for before they release the money to the customer.

Contact your bank and ask them if you brought in a cashier’s check for $4000, how long would it take to know you could use the money, with no worries about the check.  If their answer included terms like “clear“, “good” or “verified‘ you may want to read the information we have on what these terms really mean, and then armed with that information you may want to speak to the bank manager about better education on counterfeit checks for his staff, or go and find a bank that already does understand these items and can therefore better protect you and your money.


Consumer Law & Policy Blog sees my point

I just got done reading the article at the Consumer Law and Policy Blog entitled How Chase Bank Almost Helped a Teenager Get Scammed.  This story points out exactly what we at Scam Victims United have been talking about since 2003.  The banks will tell people that the checks are “clear”, “good” or “verified” but none of those words mean anything about the customer’s protection from risk when these checks come back as counterfeit.  The bank will still hold the customer liable for the entire amount.

I think this is wrong.  When the bank employee tells you that the check is “clear”, “good” or “verified” that should be the same as a verbal contract, and if something should come up later with that same check the BANK should hold some, if not all, of the liability.  Isn’t that the job of the bank, to verify these checks?  

This is why we have started the petition at http://www.change.org/petitions/view/create_scam_education_and_awareness_programs asking for a change in these laws and better consumer protection against theses scams.  We have also gone out to local high schools to give presentations to the students in order to educate them about these scams, and the banking terms.  We need to give not only our teens, but everyone, the tools that they need to protect themselves from these scams.

Shawn Mosch
Co-Founder of ScamVictimsUnited.com
There is strength in numbers!

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Sign our petition for Scam Education and Awareness Programs

What are they thinking!?!?!

A fellow scam fighter alerted me to an article this past week about a new feature in mobile banking.  Soon you will be able to take a photo of a check with your phone and then get that check deposited into your banking account.  My first thought was that the banks need to fix the problems and issues that they already have with check deposits before they create a whole new way for people to deposit their checks.

The article says

Banks have already offered smartphone applications that let customers check balances, transfer funds and make payments.

Yes, they do.  I have even heard some banks say that they can send you an email to alert you when a check has cleared.  If you read this blog on a regular basis, you will know that I have a big problem with the banks using the term “cleared” to customers.  Our bank told us that our cashier’s check was “cleared” and then one week later they called us to tell us that it was counterfeit.

Back to the article that I was talking about.  It goes on to explain how this new technology would work.

A bank customer takes a photo of the front of the check and the back of the check that has been signed by the customer. The photo gets sent to the bank through its mobile application. In most cases, funds are in the customers account immediately.

Wait a minute . . . immediately!?!?!  So now if someone were to take a picture of a cashier’s check, they could start using that money right away?  What about waiting for the check to be verified at a legitimate check?  What about protecting the banking customer’s funds by holding the check until it has passed through the system?  Oh wait, they don’t do that now with paper checks so why would they do it with electronic image checks.

Here is the ONLY positive side I could see about this.  There are some people that have taken a cashier’s check that they wanted verified into the bank and have been arrested for presenting a counterfeit check.  With this technology they could send a picture of the check into the bank instead of actually going into a branch location.  Of course, if the check is found to be counterfeit the bank could probably send the police to the person’s house to arrest them for trying to pass a counterfeit check.

More banks are expected to add the feature, especially as consumers demand 24 hour banking.

I would think that those same customers who are demanding 24 hour banking would also demand that the bank is looking out for their best interest.  How about giving us accurate information on when the money from a check is truly ours to use and spend without any worries?  How about telling the customer that the funds are available, but it could take 10 business days or more for the check to be verified as legitimate.  That is what this bank customer demands.

Bank of America

Are you one of the millions of Americans who would love to tell the big banks what you think of their policies and procedures? Now is your chance!

Tomorrow a group from the PICO National Network will be meeting with Bank Of America executives for a face to face conversation about the problems that they have caused for so many people. They need your help . . . if you have a Bank of America story, go to http://action.seiu.org/page/s/bofameeting to submit your story. The more stories that they have, the more that they can try to hold Bank of America accountable for.

Is there a banker in the house?

because I just got this from Banker’s Online . . .

Paperless Fed – A Game Changer for Financial Institutions
Soon the Federal Reserve will be all electronic when it comes to processing checks. No longer will the Federal receive paper cash letters or send financial institutions their daily in-clearing items. The same applies to returned items. It will not be long before the Federal Reserve will make an announcement (very similar to ACH tape decision made in 1993) informing financial institutions that all check related transactions will be transmitted electronically. If your institution is unable to receive your daily files electronically, you will need to designate a processor or correspondent institution to receive your items on your behalf.

This program will address the legal, regulatory, technical and operational impacts of the Fed’s elimination of all but one Check Processing Center including but not limited to:

The impact on Funds Availability and bank disclosures (with one processing center, all checks become local checks)
The impact on return items (paper and electronic)
Operational and technical impact on financial institutions that are not image capable
Forward Cash Letters
Return Cash Letters
Presentment by the Federal Reserve and Other financial institutions
Transportation Costs
Federal Reserve Processing Fees
What happens to same day settlement?
What are the processing and other considerations of Non-Cash Items (Collection Items and Foreign Checks)?
What do you do with Bonds, Coupons and Securities?
Bank Float Schedules?


Here is my question . . . will this help to stop more counterfeit cashier’s check scams? In the past, what I have been told is that the reason that the banks do not find out that the check is counterfeit for a week or more is because the paper check still has to go through all of the normal processing channels . . . go to the correct clearing house . . . but if it is all done electronically, wouldn’t that speed up that process? And if that is so, wouldn’t they be able to catch that these checks are counterfeit sooner? (and if so, how much sooner?)

Detecting counterfeit checks

In my searching around on the internet for information on scams, stories of scams in the news I came across a story at http://www.americanbanker.com/btn_issues/22_3/-374033-1.html written by Mike Fenton of Parascript. In the article he says

Automatic systems for signature verification can successfully rely on a shared image archive and improve customer service and satisfaction by enabling banks and retailers to proactively inform customers of potential fraud. Similarly, check stock verification software can be used in a shared image archive environment to protect financial institutions against the fastest-growing source of fraudulent activity surrounding checks today, responsible for 28 percent of all check-related losses in banks – counterfeit checks.

What I want to know is if this works just for personal checks, or if this system also works for counterfeit cashier’s checks.

Here is some information from their site.

Parascript Expands Fraud Detection Capabilities with Check Stock Verification Software
Boulder, CO – May 18, 2004– Parascript, LLC, an industry leader in recognition software, announced today the release of CheckStockXpert™, an anti-fraud software used to detect counterfeit checks. This new software complements Parascript’s check recognition and signature verification products to give banks and financial institutions a powerful defense against multiple types of fraud.

The American Bankers Association reports that attempted check fraud in banks nationwide surpassed $4.3 billion in 2002, and continues to be a major concern as criminals gain access to more sophisticated equipment and develop new tactics to attack institutions with weak defenses. This newest addition to Parascript’s anti-fraud product suite will help banks and financial institutions automatically detect suspect checks passing through the system. The full suite of products will address altered and counterfeit checks as well as random and skilled forgery.

“Parascript is committed to applying our advanced pattern recognition technology to all facets of the growing problem of check fraud,” said Mike Fenton, Parascript’s vice president of Total Recognition Solutions. “First with CheckPlus® andSignatureXpert®, and now with CheckStockXpert, Parascript is setting the pace for enhancing and streamlining fraud detection. As we have in the past, we will continue to advance our technology to combat any and all fraudulent activity against financial institutions, retailers and their customers.”

CheckStockXpert uses advanced pattern recognition to verify the full image of a check as well as preprinted objects on a check including headers of check number, date, payee, dollar amount, dollar sign, memo, payor block and payor bank field. This software scrutinizes the placement of each item and its relative distances between pairs of blocks, allowing banks to immediately identify even the slightest variations of a check. Multiplemethods of verification—including quantitative analysis, pattern recognition, analytical and geometrical analysis and neural networks—further increase accuracy. Asa result, banks and financial institutions can automatically detect copies or imitations of checks passing through the system.

Parascript’s three-pronged defense puts a stop to even the most sophisticated check-writing criminals.

CheckPlus, Parascript’s hallmark check recognition software, already used by leading financial institutions captures multiple fields on a check, including payee line, check number, dollar amount and date. Having this key information helps enhance positive pay or other fraud detection applications. Parascript’s signature verification software, SignatureXpert, uses the most advanced pattern recognition technology to detect random and skilled signature forgery. These two software products combined with CheckStockXpert help banks and financial institutions build a solid defense against all types of fraud.

Parascript’s suite of anti-fraud products is immediately available. More information is available at http://www.parascript.com.

About Parascript, LLC

Parascript’s Total Recognition® technology converts paper-based information into computer-usable data. It is the first complete technology that recognizes all character types — cursive, handprint and machine print — on all forms. Its unique capabilities allow organizations using forms to capture customer information to dramatically reduce their data entry expenses. With Total Recognition technology, companies can turn handwritten and print data, including legacy data, into electronic information that can be used to power web-based offerings and other marketing initiatives. Total Recognition technology is available via a number of channels: as software development kits, through Parascript’s on-line services, through onsite custom solutions, and from Parascript’s partners.

Money Order Scams

My good friend, Denise Richardson of Give Me Back My Credit just sent me a link to a story that I think all of you should read.


I love that the author starts off by calling this a case of the clueless banks, because this is the way that I have felt for years. When we were hit with our Counterfeit Cashier’s Check Scam, which works the same way as the Money Order Scam the author talks about in this story, our bank told us that the cashier’s check would be verified as good and clear in 24 hours. When we questioned that answer they assured us that 24 hours was all that it took for it to be “verified”.

Back then, I assumed that this meant that someone at the bank actually did something to “verify” that the cashier’s check or money order was good. You would think with all of the computer programs out there that they could have a system where you enter the check information and it would tell you if it that check was written on a bad account or if the account had enough funds in it to cover that check . . . and last time I checked, the phone system still worked for the bank to call the issuing bank to “verify” all of this.

So, a week after we deposited the cashier’s check that we were sent, we got a call from our bank telling us that it was counterfeit and that we were liable for the entire amount. I asked them how this could be true since they told us that the check was “good”, “verified” and that the “funds were available”. They informed us that when we signed the check we became liable for the full amount, and that if we wanted to know for sure that it was good we should have called the issuing bank . . . funny . . . that is what I thought THEY were going to do when they said that they were going to “verify” the check!

But it gets better . . . as we were battling the bank and speaking with the Loss Prevention Department my husband asked them “So, how long does it REALLY take for a cashier’s check to clear?” After asking her supervisor, the person we were speaking with told us “24 hours”, to which we responded, “If that were true, we would not be having this conversation with you right now.”

And that is why I agree with the author of this article that the banks are clueless.

Shawn Mosch
Co-Founder of ScamVictimsUnited.com
There is strength in numbers!

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Vocabulary Lesson – Clear

Quite a while back, I wrote a “vocabulary lesson” about cashier’s checks.

I wanted to continue on this to show why I believe the wording used by the banking industry is so misleading and why it is so easy for so many people to become victims of counterfeit cashier’s check scams.

So let’s say you receive a cashier’s check from someone and you are concerned if it is a valid check or not. You want to receive the payment you are entitled to, and you do not want to end up liable for money from a bad check. This is the case with many people who become victims of counterfeit cashier’s check scams. Many of them do not know how to make sure that a check is legitimate, so they bring it to their bank. They trust that the people who work with forms of currency every day will know how to make sure that this check is legitimate.

If the bank teller tells you that “the check will be clear in 24 hours” what does that really mean, and why is that confusing to the banking customer? Let’s take a look at the definition of the word clear.

free from blemishes; unhampered by restriction or limitation; unencumbered by debts or charges; free from obstruction

“clear.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009.
Merriam-Webster Online. 25 October 2009

Banking: collection of funds on which a check is drawn, and payment of those funds to the holder of the check

“clear” Business Dictionaries from AllBusiness.com. 2009.

From reading these definitions one would think that when the bank tells you that an item, such as a cashier’s check, is “clear” that would mean that you are free to use that money with no worry . . . it should be unhampered by restrictions and funds should have been collected from the bank on which the check was drawn according to the definitions I found online from reliable sources. So then why is it that banking employees will tell their customers that the check is “clear” in 24 hours, but then contact them a week later to say that the check was found to be counterfeit? You cannot un-ring a bell. If it is clear one day, it should still be clear a week later.

Maybe the real problem is not the word “clear” but the fact that it takes on average 7 – 10 business days for a check to go through the entire clearing process, but many bank’s train their employees to tell people that cashier’s checks are “clear” in 24 hours. If it is a legitimate cashier’s check, then there would be no problems since it would be drawn against funds of the bank itself, but these checks are counterfeit and they are very good counterfeits, so good that they fool bank employees and bank managers on a daily basis.

So to make the vocabulary fit the situation, wouldn’t it be better for bank employees to inform their customers that “it could take over 10 days for the check to clear”. I know that the bank that we are currently with does this because I asked them before I opened an account with them. Test your bank out. Go in and ask them if you brought in a cashier’s check how long would it take for it to clear. If they tell you 24 hours, you might want to rethink who you are trusting with your money.

Shawn Mosch
Co-Founder of ScamVictimsUnited.com
There is strength in numbers!

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Seven years

Seven years ago this month my husband and I became victims of a counterfeit cashier’s check scam while selling his 1961 Buick Special online. So much has happened in those seven years.

We found that we were not alone, and that this was happening to others.
We started our website Scam Victims United to share our story with others.
We spoke out in the news about this issue.
We have worked with Consumer Protection Agencies to help spread the word about scams.
In the first two years of our site being operational, we helped to stop over 2 million dollars from going into the hands of scammers.

We have come a long way, but we still have so far to go. The Consumer Federation of America released the results of a survey in May 2009 which relates directly to information we at Scam Victims United work to educate people about. They found that fifty-nine percent of the respondents incorrectly believe that when you deposit a check or money order, your bank confirms that it is good before allowing you to withdraw the money. The number goes up to 70 percent among young adults age 18-24, and 71 percent of people with incomes under $25,000 and who did not complete high school. More than 40 percent of those surveyed do not know that they are liable if the checks or money orders they deposit or cash are counterfeit. Fifty-two percent age 18-24 and half of Hispanics incorrectly said the person who gave you the check must pay the bank back. This is precisely the type of information that we at Scam Victims United work to educate people about.

As you can see by the results of this survey, there is a great need for education in the area of banking terminology and the check clearing process. One of the major reasons that counterfeit cashier’s checkscams work so well is that when a bank customer hears the terms “the check is clear” or that it will be “verified in 24 hours” it gives them a false sense of security that the check is legitimate and that they can use the money with no repercussions.

And that is our mission.

Shawn Mosch
Co-Founder of ScamVictimsUnited.com
There is strength in numbers!

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Have Banks No Shame?

I saw this article by Joe Nocera of The New York Times and I had to share it with you.

Lobbies representing the banking industry are opposing the creation of a consumer financial protection agency.


Brought to you by
Shawn Mosch
Co-Founder of ScamVictimsUnited.com
There is strength in numbers!

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