Scammers exploit check cashing misconception


For many of us, a hold is placed on our money once a check is deposited into our account at the bank. But what happens after the hold is released catches many people off guard.

Bonnie Calogeris is a job hunter who got excited when she finally found a job she liked on Craigslist.

"I went ahead and applied for that," Calogeris said. "That was on April 5th. On April 7th, I received an e-mail saying I had the job."

Her new employer sent her a check for $2,053 to purchase a new laptop and software for her home office. Calogeris deposited the check at a Bank of the West branch and waited for the check to clear.

Then, Calogeris did as she was instructed by way of the email: She wired money to a distributor to purchase her office equipment.

That's when the trouble began.

"An hour and a half later the bank called me to inform me the check was counterfeit, so all of my savings have gone to cover all our bounced checks," Calogeris said. Her savings account had been almost completely drained. "You would figure, if a bank holds a check, puts a hold on the check, that they're waiting to make sure the check is good," Calogeris said.

But Bank of the West told her they were only following the law.

Consumer Action's Joe Ridout says the check holds are governed by something called "Regulation C. C."

"The bank hold being removed and the funds being made available to the customer isn't the same thing as saying the check has been verified and is legitimately good," Ridout said. "That provides an avenue for scammers to rip people off."

Ridout says any time a person is asked to wire cash, it's most likely a scam. However, Calogeris says she blames the bank.

"They let the money go," she said. "Now they're blaming me because I took the money out."

Banks need to do a better job making the distinction between releasing a hold and declaring a check as good, according to Ridout.

"The bottom line is the hold time is not the same thing as finding out that the check is good," Ridout said. "And once the hold is removed it might be only the first step in finding out whether the suspicious check is for real."

Bank of the West declined to comment on this story other than to send ABC7 a copy of Regulation C. C.

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