I read these two things while trying to understand cashier's checks, and they seem to conflict:


1:
Cashier’s checks are checks issued by banks, and they're used when somebody wants to be sure that they'll really get paid. Personal checks (and business checks) are less secure forms of payment – if you're the person getting paid – because you can never be sure if a check will bounce.

If you're paying with a cashier's check, funds move out of your account immediately when you request the check. The money goes into the bank's account, and whoever you're paying will feel more confident; they know the bank has already taken the money and set it aside for them.


2:
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.


I also read this question here and like many other sources it says cashier's checks are the most secure form of check. This seems at odds with its popularity of use as a vehicle for scams.

How can cashier's checks be dependent upon the bank immediately taking the funds from your account and yet be so easy to scam with by not actually having funds to back up the check?

up vote 12 down vote accepted

There are two different issues at play here, and they are completely separate from each other:

  1. A legitimate personal or business check which is tied to an actual bank account may have funds available at the time the check is written, but may not have the funds available in the future when the check is cashed (whether this is intentional or not). Bank and cashier's checks avoid this problem because the money is due at the time the check is created.
  2. Any form of paper check (personal, business, bank, cashier's) can be faked.

A bank or cashier's check is "safer" than a regular personal or business check because it avoids problem #1. Problem #2 exists with all kinds of paper checks. I assume the reason the warnings are about cashier's check moreso than personal checks, is simply because people already know to wait for personal checks to clear before handing over merchandise to the buyer. People are less likely to do that when receiving cashier's checks, but perhaps they still should if there is any doubt about the validity of the check. One could argue that a cashier's check actually provides a false sense of security due to this (to the receiver).

On the flip side, if you are the payer, then a cashier's check could be thought of as more secure than a personal check because you don't have to reveal your bank account information to a stranger.

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    +1. I'd also encourage the OP to think about how a cashier's check really is quite safe if it's coming from a known source, such as a regular customer for whom who have a reliable permanent address. A personal check can fail due to their negligence, but if they try to pass off a forged check, you have everything you need to send them to prison for a very serious crime. – Mike Haskel Jul 27 '16 at 20:06
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    I'm looking for an answer from someone that knows how this works; ideally it shouldn't involve "I assume this is what happens." If the scam is as simple as a fake cashier's check, I would think it wouldn't be cashable, as there would be no record of it in the bank's system. That wouldn't make sense with how these scams play out, where the check is cashed and then fraud is discovered later. If you're right, if it's that simple, I'd just like to know for sure rather than assume that's the fundamental method of most cashier's check scams. – Aerovistae Jul 27 '16 at 20:19
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    @Aerovistae - The reason, which I tried to explain in my answer, is simply about perception. A cashier's check is more secure than a personal check for the same reason that cash is more secure than a cashier's check. Because it is harder to counterfeit, and therefore people accept it without taking it to the bank and verifying that it's legit. If people always waited for cashier's checks to clear just like regular checks, no one would be scamming with them anymore. People can make counterfeit cash too, but that doesn't mean cash is no longer secure. – TTT Jul 27 '16 at 20:28
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    @Aerovistae - The scam is as simple as a fake cashier's check. Your link #2 says that in the first sentence. The depositing bank always just assumes the check is legit, and doesn't get the bad news until after it sends the check to the funding bank. – TTT Jul 27 '16 at 20:33
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    But why is a fake cashier's check cashable? Surely nowadays there would have to be a record of it in the electronic system, created when it was issued? – Aerovistae Jul 27 '16 at 20:33

To add to the answer here, the text in #2 is misleading. It's not that the consumer owes the bank the full amount of the cashier's check that had been deposited - they already paid that amount to the bank when the check was generated. Instead, what it is saying is that relative to using a normal check, you have no recourse to recover your money.

Let's take two scenario - you give what turns out to be a scammer a cashier's check or you give the scammer a regular check. With the cashier's check, you've already paid that money to the bank. Once the check leaves your hands, you have almost no recourse to get it back. The money is completely gone, even if you discover 1 minute later you handed the check to a scammer. With a regular check, should you discover your error that quickly, you can stop payment on the check. Since the transaction will take a couple business days to settle, it can be canceled and the money effectively never leaves your account.

So the two points being made are: 1. Cashier's checks are great for payees - it mostly removes the need to worry that the check will bounce (still need to worry about a fake cashier's check but unlike a regular check which you can print out at home, more work goes into faking these). 2. Cashier's checks are not great for payers - Since you are effectively handing someone cash, if they turn out to be a scammer and disappear, you will have lost your money.

  • Interesting take on this. I believe the question is about the more common scam where the scammer gives a fake cashier's check to an unsuspecting victim. But your idea of a scammer requesting a cashier's check from an unsuspecting buyer is certainly possible, though I think in this scenario the scammer is more likely to demand cash only since maybe even a cashier's check could be traced if someone tried really hard? Good point though. – TTT Feb 28 at 1:53
  • @TTT one scam on the rise is where someone impersonates a title company to a home buyer and requests a wire transfer or cashiers check in advance of closing. Since the customer is already primed to provide funds in that manner, they may not realize they're dealing with a scammer. The check route (versus a wire) would be riskier for the scammer, but in many cases, the customer has never been to the title company or met any of their agents so the scammer could execute it in person or use a patsy via those ubiquitous CL ads. Wires can be traced too, but similarly difficult to reverse. – iheanyi Feb 28 at 16:37
  • Likely with either the wire or cashier's check, a scammer would use the bank account of a patsy who then forwards funds minus some cut using something like Western Union or prepaid visa cards allowing for the trail to run cold. – iheanyi Feb 28 at 16:38

Ok, few things to understand first:

  • Think of the cashiers check like a check-proxy service.
  • What 'secure check' really means is that it's backed.
  • When a fraudulent check of any kind is discovered, the bank 'undoes' the transaction.

Secondly, think about the way a scam usually flows. A person (scammer) with an actual bank account with money issues a valid cashiers check, trick someone else (victim) into receiving it (typically in exchange for a percent) and passing along a portion to another account (back to the scammer). The scammer then reports the first transaction as fraudulent and the bank takes back that transaction. Now the victim is stuck with the second transaction, and without the funds from the first. Meanwhile the scammer has both the original funds and the percentage from the second one.

In a way they're attractive for scammers because they're so trusted.

  • Welcome to Stack Exchange! – Aerovistae Jul 26 '16 at 18:43
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    I think it is unlikely that scammers are cutting legitimate cashier's checks and then reporting their use as fraud. It is much more likely that they are creating fraudulent checks that receiving banks are not immediately ale to identify as such. – Eric Jul 27 '16 at 10:55
  • True, it's much more effective for them to write checks out of other people's accounts. That way whether it works or not they end up above where they started. – Christian Foster Jul 27 '16 at 14:30
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    @ChristianFoster You misunderstand me. I do not think they are writing checks coming from anyone's account. The checks are likely from non-existant accounts or even non-existant banks. The classic form of this scam is checks from Nigeria, which your local bank would have difficulty authenticating on the spot. – Eric Jul 27 '16 at 20:40
  • The original bank can't "take back" the cashier's check transaction. The bank that received the funds from the cashier's check needs to be the one that gives it back. So, if they're not convinced that it was fraudulent or if the money is already gone (so they don't have it to give back). . . it's likely not going back. – iheanyi Feb 28 at 1:33

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