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About 5 years ago, I participated in an educational training program. Recently, they sent me an envelope with a check for $300 in the mail. There was no explanation attached. The check looks okay, has their proper business address and is from a respectable local bank.

I tried calling the company but got lost in their customer service department.

I would theorize that it had something to do with the CARES act based on timing, but I attended this program years ago. And didn't pay them much to begin with. More surprisingly, they had my current address correct, and I moved three times since attending the program. And never gave them my updated address.

Is this check safe to deposit?

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    I tried calling the company but got lost in their customer service department. I would try again. Seriously. They won't hang up on you - you shouldn't either until they can answer definitively whether they did or did not send you a cheque recently.
    – J...
    Mar 15 at 12:54
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    Don't call the company, send an email instead. That way you have proof of the communication in case you need it later on.
    – Polygorial
    Mar 15 at 15:08
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    Does the check have anything printed on it, like "by depositing this check, you agree to xyz". I'm not sure if that sort of thing is legally enforceable, but I've seen that technique used in scams before. Mar 16 at 9:01
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    I doubt it has anything to do with CARES -- it's more likely something like an audit determined they had over-charged you, or some sort of payment due to a class action settlement. If it's the second, then by accepting the money you lose the right to sue them individually (which is so much of a PITA it's generally not worth it, but you still might want to look into it)
    – Joe
    Mar 16 at 13:53
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    @LN6595 I'm happy you got your answer. That's the other thing that tend to happen when you contact them in writing, they take it more seriously and you get an answer. Without having to wait in phone queues.
    – Polygorial
    Mar 21 at 8:42
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I would deposit the check but not spend the money for at LEAST two weeks to give it plenty of time to make its way back to the issuing bank. You didn't indicate the nationality of the check but I'll assume it's the U.S.

Just because your bank accepts the deposit and credits your account doesn't mean the check is actually any good. It can take up to seven (7) business days for the check to clear through the bank accepting it for deposit and the issuing bank.

If it turns out the check DOESN'T clear, your bank will confiscate the deposit amount and may even charge you fees for depositing a dishonored check. I would find out from your bank what its policies are before proceeding.

Here's a good article from Forbes.com on the issue that can clarify the rules about accepting and depositing checks:

https://www.forbes.com/advisor/banking/funds-availability-and-your-bank-account/

Hope this helps. Good luck!

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    I don't know if you can still do this, but back in the day you could take a checque to the ISSUING bank and they would honor it by verifying that the finds were available on the spot.
    – corsiKa
    Mar 15 at 3:05
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    @corsiKa You can take the check to the issuing bank. They should always be willing to cash the check for you, but there may be special requirements. What those requirements are will vary from institution to institution (e.g. two forms of picture ID). I've also had times when they physically called the person/company who wrote the check to see if the check was legit. As long as you are not doing anything wrong/illegal (i.e. you're cashing a check which you believe you were legitimately given), then it's just a matter of finding out what the hoops are and jumping through them.
    – Makyen
    Mar 15 at 3:36
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    I've had checks bounce 4 weeks after I deposited them. Granted, that was 20 years ago, so that may not be possible any more
    – Kevin
    Mar 15 at 14:22
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    @Makyen Some banks will charge a check-cashing fee if you don't have an account. Even if it is a check for one of their accounts. Mar 15 at 19:15
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    And...? The fact the check is from a respectable local bank doesn't make the check any good just by that association. Besides, that being the case, why would you worry about whether you can deposit it in your account when you could just simply drive down to a branch and cash it?
    – RiverNet
    Mar 16 at 11:26
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You have to do your due diligence before depositing the check.

  • Determine why the money is being sent to you. The reason has to make sense. The fact it was near the time of the CARES act doesn't mean they are related.

  • One way the check can be fake is if the company name is almost correct. You might miss the significance of the difference.

  • Read everything that came in the envelope. Read everything written on the check. Sometimes cashing the check obligates you to something else.

  • Mistakes can be made. They may have sent it to the wrong person. Make sure all parts of the name on the check are correct. I once had a check sent to somebody who had a different middle name, they were still able to cashed it. It took weeks to get resolved.

  • It could still be good. They may have been looking for you for years, and somehow they linked you with the new address.

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    Does US law allow a check to carry conditions? In German law that is not possible, basically a check is then, and only then, a check, if it is nothing else but a check. - There could be other paperwork, though, stating that caching the check is supposed to signify acceptance of some conditions. - But how should anyone prove that those conditions were received, as well? Mar 15 at 7:27
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    @I'mwithMonica There are still checks in Germany? I saw the last one in the early nineties.
    – lejonet
    Mar 15 at 9:03
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    @I'mwithMonica: Well there's this: "Beware checks with 'Payment in Full,' 'Full and Final Settlement' or similar language written in the memo line or endorsement area. When these 'Payment in Full' checks are cashed, they are very often binding, and can eliminate your rights to recover under contract or the mechanics lien laws." levelset.com/blog/… Mar 15 at 13:37
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    I remember years back here a scummy payday loan place sent out what looked like checks in the mail for something like $1,500 but in the fine print it was stated that they were loans and at some usurious interest rate. Mar 15 at 14:18
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    @lejonet Some insurance companies still use them when they have to reimburse you, as apparently sometimes do travel companies. My guess would be that they hope that you don't hand them in, as the fees can be higher than the payout. But even that accounts for maybe one check every few years.
    – mlk
    Mar 16 at 10:19
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If it is from a local bank, go to that bank and cash it. That way, there can't be any shenanigans.

Source: I had an employer whose paycheck would bounce when I deposited them. I don't like to pay the bounced check fee. I waited for the owner to go to the bank, and would go to the bank an hour later to get my paychecks cashed.

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    Calling the issuing bank also works. They will tell you whether a check of a given amount will clear or not.
    – chicks
    Mar 15 at 18:34
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There is little risk in depositing the check, just don't spend the extra money for a while. Simply let it sit there, or put it in your savings (where you can get it back out if needed).

Scams typically ask you send part or all of the money back through another way - so they would ask you to buy a giftcard and give them the number, or ask you to wire an overpayment back - never do anything like that!
Without any such request, there is nothing to gain for scammers and fraudsters, so the check is probably fine.

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    There IS a risk, in that the bank you deposit the check in could charge you a bad check fee even if you DON'T spend the money. So it's wise to check with your bank on this before making any kind of deposit.
    – RiverNet
    Mar 14 at 17:17
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    The scams is not only about sending part of the payment through Western Union. They could claim that the lent you money, and they can prove you received money from them. They'll ask for the amount + x% back. Mar 15 at 15:36
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There should have been a cover letter. If they were ordered to refund you or this was an honest refund, you should have received a cover letter at the same time for accounting purposes. In particular, if there was anything shady about the training or if work you produced during that training was on-sold.

Of course the letter may have been sent separately.

Do follow up, as it may have been meant for someone else, and you may need documentation for tax.

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