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Some time ago I found a room to rent in another city (via Craigslist). I talked with the lady renting out the room on the phone and after we made a deal I sent her a half of the month rent ($375). Not long after that she said that her living situation had changed and she could no longer rent out that room. She didn't cashed the check at that moment and said she would send it to me. Now, it's more than 2 weeks after she said that she sent the check but I still haven't received it. The check has not been cashed and I have requested a stop payment on this check via online system of my bank. Now, the questions:

  1. Do I have any financial risks from the fact that someone (a person I don't know much about) has my check?
  2. Do personal checks have some kind of expiration date?
  3. When writing a check, can I put there an explicit note "valid before xx/xx/xxxx"?
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  1. Stops are typically for a limited period, so you have a risk that it could be cashed after the stop expires. Ask your bank how long the stop is for - they are often in the range of six months (e.g., Bank of America).
  2. Checks don't really expire. If they are stale dated - usually six months old - banks frequently reserve the right to pay or bounce. Again, check with your own bank to find out their policy.
  3. You can write "valid before" etc on the check but it will be ignored. This is because banks already have established rules and don't need customers to create new ones - if you want to put a stop on a check simply follow the usual channels.
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Is your post office slow? I've had mail delayed that long at one local to me.

I'd ask her to send you something in writing (maybe via e-mail) that she would not cash said check. Express your concern. If there's nothing shady going on she may send you the letter to allay your concern, and then you have some recourse if something happens. Worth a shot anyway.

Regarding check expiration, see here.

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Save all of your correspondence, as well as the original ad. If you had phone conversations, try to record, on paper, when you had the conversations, and a general narrative of what was said.

In writing, request that the person return the check to you. Make sure to say in the note that you have mutually agreed to not complete the transaction that you were contemplating, and thus do not owe the other party any money.

If the person does not reply or doesn't send a check, send a letter via certified mail.

Basically, at this point, you've taken reasonable steps to avoid a bad situation. If the person cashes the check later, you have evidence for the police or for small claims court.

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Your present situation aside, checks do present a risk any time you present them. I would never write a check other than to a legitimate business or other person that I trusted. The routing number and your account number are both on the check, and that is all that is needed to pull funds - you can even do this yourself, no check needed, by giving these numbers to many places such as your utility companies

A few years back, the famous computer scientist Donald Knuth announced that he was no longer giving out checks as rewards for finding errors in his books, due to fraudulent activity. Basically, most recipients of these checks treated them more as awards then actual cash and displayed them prominently, which allowed fraudsters to get his account information and drain money from his account:

Due to an unfixable security flaw in the way funds are now transferred electronically, worldwide, it is no longer safe to write personal checks. A criminal who sees the numbers that are printed at the bottom of any check that you write can use that information to withdraw all the money from your account. He or she can do this in various ways, without even knowing your name --- for example by creating an ATM card, or by impersonating a bank in some country of the world where safeguards are minimal, or by printing a document that looks like a check. The account number and routing information are all that international financial institutions look at before deciding to transfer funds from one account to another.

source: http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/~uno/news08.html

The fact that this is illegal won't prevent the unscruplous from being able to do it, and there is no guarantee you will be able to get the funds back should it occur.

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