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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Banks Honor Bogus Checks and Scam Victims Pay - By Caroline E. Mayer

Trying to sell his 1968 Mustang online, John Schaefer received what appeared to be a firm offer from an overseas classic-car dealer. The buyer sent Schaefer a check for $14,000 even though Schaefer was asking only $8,000. The buyer said the extra money was to cover shipping and directed Schaefer to wire him the difference.
 
"It seemed kind of funny, and I had some hesitation," said Schaefer, who deposited the check in his bank's ATM over the weekend. On Monday, he asked a teller to see if the check was good. She left her perch, went to the backroom and returned assuring him "there was no problem," Schaefer recalled.
 
On Wednesday, "still not feeling quite right," Schaefer asked the same teller to make sure the check was good. That time, the teller told him the check had been cleared and he was "all set." Schaefer withdrew $5,000 and wired the money to the buyer.
 
Four days later, as he reviewed his account online, he discovered the check was not good. Even worse, the bank was demanding that he repay the $5,000.
 
"Had I made the deposit and not tried to make sure it was legitimate, I should have full obligation to make good on it," said Schaefer, 34, a facilities manager in Brattleboro, Vt. "But I checked with the bank twice, and now I find out they have no accountability."
 
Schaefer is one of thousands of consumers who have been victimized by an increasingly common check scam that relies on the vagaries of the banking system to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers.
 
Federal rules require banks to release funds from a consumer's deposit quickly, usually within one to five business days, depending on the kind of check. However, it can take weeks before a bank discovers a check is fraudulent.
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