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This is actually about my sister-in-law who lives in Georgia. She just received a "cashiers check" for $2395 from a company in Indiana. It looks like this:

cashiers check

She said that she has been doing "mystery shopper" work for a company and thought that this would be payment for that, but that usually the payments she received for that work were just a couple of hundreds of dollars.

She said she had not done that much of that "mystery shopper" work that she would have expected to receive anything close to the amount on this check.

She was asking me about it but I thought that if she does not know the sender, perhaps this could be some kind of new scam and she should check with the local police (which she said she was going to do).

Anyway I wanted to ask here if anyone knows of a scam like this? Considering that the check here seems to be a "cashiers check", how would a scam like this even work?

Update: I just found out that there was indeed a letter included with the check (and it seems to have instructions similar to those mentioned in the answer by "BrenBarn"). This is indeed related to that "mystery shopper" work. Turns out the reason she was not sure was because the sender of that check has a different company name than the company she normally dealt with. Here is a part of the letter:

enter image description here

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    Yes, it is most likely a scam. "Drawer: Moneygram" is one of the giveaways, IMHO. – littleadv Nov 30 '15 at 6:55
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    Because MoneyGram doesn't issue cashier's checks, only official checks, which they issue themselves. – littleadv Nov 30 '15 at 7:16
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    @random832: Banks may ask folks, especially the elderly, whether they're certain they aren't being scammed. Walmart employees aren't paid to care. – keshlam Nov 30 '15 at 15:17
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    @littleadv Well if you knew it was forged, sure. But I was more thinking if either: (A) you suspected something might be off, so you wanted to go to the bank it was written from so that you wouldn't get burned if it was (assuming said bank would only cash it if it were legit), or (B) you, in good faith, believed everything was completely above-board, but you happen to not have a bank account, so you go to that bank because their logo and address is on it. – Dan Henderson Dec 1 '15 at 4:43
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    They want the shopper (your sis-in-law) to send $2000 from the cashier's check to the next shopper? Definitely a scam. They want her to cash the check, send them the money, then she gets stuck when the bank figures out that the check is fake. – Hannover Fist Dec 1 '15 at 18:24
120

It is likely a scam. In fact the whole mystery shopping "job" may be a scam. There is a Snopes page about cashier's check scams, as well as a US government page which specifically mentions mystery shopping as a scam angle.

As for how the scam works, from the occ.gov site I just linked:

However, cashier’s checks lately have become an attractive vehicle for fraud when used for payments to consumers. Although, the amount of a cashier’s check quickly becomes "available" for withdrawal by the consumer after the consumer deposits the check, these funds do not belong to the consumer if the check proves to be fraudulent. It may take weeks to discover that a cashier’s check is fraudulent. In the meantime, the consumer may have irrevocably wired the funds to a scam artist or otherwise used the funds—only to find out later, when the fraud is detected—that the consumer owes the bank the full amount of the cashier’s check that had been deposited.

It is somewhat unusual in that, from what you say, there has been no attempt thus far to get money back. However, your sister-in-law may have received that info separately, or received it as part of her mystery shopping job but didn't mention it to you with regard to this check. Typically the scam involves telling the recipient to transfer money to a third party (e.g., by buying goods as a mystery shopper, or via wire transfer to "reimburse" someone associated with a sham operation). By the time the cashier's check is revealed as fraudulent, the victim has already transferred away his/her own real money.

It's probably worth taking the check to your or her bank and asking them about it. They may have more info. Also, banks usually want to know about scams like this because, in the long run, they accumulate data on them and share that with law enforcement and can eventually catch some of the scammers.

Edit: Just to help anyone who may be reading this later. The letter you added confirms it is absolutely a scam. My boss was once contacted via a scam operation very similar to this. The huge red flag (in addition to others already mentioned) is that you are being "given" a check for over $2000, of which only $25 is purportedly for actual mystery shopping and $285 is payment for you, the mystery shopper. The whole rest of the $2000+ amount is for you to wire to "another Mystery/Secret Shopper in order for them to complete their assignment". They are giving you $2000 to give to someone else who is supposedly another one of their own employees/contractors. Ask yourself what sane business would conduct their operations in this way. If you work at a law office, or a hamburger stand, or a school, or anything you like, does your boss ever say "Here is your paycheck for $5000. I know you only earned $1000, but I'm just going to give you the whole $5000, and you're supposed to use $4000 of it to pay your coworker Joe his wages." No. There is no reason to do that except that the "other mystery shopper" is actually the scammer.

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    Thanks @BrenBarn for the explanation. What you are saying seems to be happening in this case as well. – coderworks Nov 30 '15 at 7:12
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    IIRC I've heard (in connection with scams of this type) that it's also possible for the scammer to reclaim their money by sending a legitimate check and revoking it later - apparently checks can be revoked for something like 14 days or 30 days after they are deposited. If there's any truth to that, perhaps it would be worth mentioning? – David Z Nov 30 '15 at 9:01
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    @user17915: The scammer isn't giving you $2000+ they are giving you a fake check. You pay the scammer say $1500 real money. The scammer is $1500 better off, the bank takes that $1500 out of your account. The $2000 never really reaches your account because the check is fake. You are fooled because the bank temporarily shows your account as holding $2000 more than it really holds, the bank corrects this error when it later finds the check is fake. You are left $1500 worse off. – RedGrittyBrick Nov 30 '15 at 11:01
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    @Michael "the only 100% foolproof way to try to actually claim this money" is a contradiction in terms. There is no money. There never was this money. There is no point in wasting your time/mind and Bremer bank's thinking that "just maybe this one isn't a scam". Overpayment + instructions + a job you don't even think you did = a scam, period. That's 100% foolproof. – Chelonian Nov 30 '15 at 23:00
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    The questions to ask yourself are "Why would they trust me with $2000 when they could ask me to transfer $20 and I could still evaluate the Western Union etc?" and "Why would they need me to transfer the $2000 to another mystery shopper, rather than doing it themselves? – Jon Story Dec 3 '15 at 10:32
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This is a variation of a very common scam. The principle of the scam is this: I give you a check for a huge amount of money which you pay in your account. Then I ask you to pay some money from your account into a third account. Two months later the bank detects that my check was forged / stolen / cancelled / whatever and takes the huge amount of money away from your account. But you paid the money from your account, and that money is gone from your account and irrevocably ended up in my account.

  • 1
    Don't banks in the U.S only cash cheques when the sender's bank authorises the transfer? Here in Europe there is a wait period of 2-5 days where the sender's bank is contacted to authorise the transfer; this means that when the money appears in your account it's yours and cannot be reversed (typically). – AStopher Dec 3 '15 at 10:23
  • In a (not very similar, but related) scenario: I had to cancel my chequebook recently as I had lost it; this cancellation also (unbeknown to me) cancelled all cheques within it and as a result the only cheque that I wrote from it (a few months ago) that the recipient attempted to cash a couple of days ago, bounced instantly. – AStopher Dec 3 '15 at 10:25
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    Yeah, this sounds like American banks have their heads completely up their asses. Is that really how you guys do things? – Davor Dec 3 '15 at 14:14
  • That's part of the brilliance of using a cashier's check. Except when forged, these are generally credited immediately, as they are drawn at the bank. A personal check would be held, probably long enough for the scam to unravel. – Andrew Lazarus Sep 14 '18 at 5:59
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This is so very much a scam. The accepted answer already tells you the basics of it. In addition to the cheque being fake, there is also the possibility that the cheque is a legitimate cheque but has been stolen (or swindled off) from somebody else. In that case, the delay with which the cashing of the cheque will blow up can be considerably longer than the accepted answer states since it depends on the other victim noticing and reporting the fraudulent transfer.

The end result is the same: you are not going to be allowed to keep the money.

Report this to both your sister's bank as well as her local police. Nothing good can come off this.

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    This happened to me once, and I subsequently learned that stolen cheques are much more common than fake cheques. A fake cheque will be spotted more quickly by the bank because the sender's bank details won't be real. A stolen cheque takes longer because the original owner has to first notice and report the amount leaving their account. In my case, I realised it was a scam and google'd the name on the cheque. I called them and they told me that their chequebook had indeed been stolen a couple of weeks prior. – JBentley Dec 1 '15 at 1:56
-6

Some of these answers are actually wrong.

Basically if you were to cash this cheque, you are committing bank fraud. The cheque is usually fake and ends up with them cashing it off your account--this is how cheques work, when you cash a cheque, you are the one ultimately responsible for the validity of what you're cashing. This is why large cheques are balanced against your active account--so what happens is they essentially just take money from you and leave you red handed.

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    No fraud. When you cash a cheque, the cheque signer is the one ultimately responsible. If you cash a fored cheque, the forger goes to jail, not you. – user207421 Nov 30 '15 at 22:53
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    "Some of these answers are wrong" -- which ones and why? – pilotcam Dec 1 '15 at 7:14
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    @EJP - The exception would be if you knew the check was fake. You would then be complicit in the fraud, for what little good it would do you. – Justin Morgan Dec 1 '15 at 23:09
  • @EJP Agreed,; the only instance where the recipient would go to jail is if they knew the cheque was a fraud. – AStopher Dec 3 '15 at 10:27
  • ...knew, or reasonably should have known. That is the legal litmus test. Your defense is that you would not have any reason to suspect it is a scam, and nor would a reasonable person like yourself, in your shoes. And the bar is higher for someone in a profession or business. The ultimate test of that is the jury's assessment of you as a person. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 13 '18 at 17:58

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