Is this a scam? Even a “cleared” check is never really cleared

Bob Dolan thought the $1,750 check he received from a stranger had cleared with his bank. He thought wrong — and now he believes he’s been scammed.

Has he?

Here’s the backstory: Dolan’s son wanted to sub-lease his apartment and decided to post it on Craigslist, the popular online classified site.

Soon he was contacted by a young lady named Vera from France who was interested in leasing the apartment for a semester while attending University of Pittsburgh. Dolan was contacted by Vera’s father who agreed to send an $800 security deposit.

The check came – but it was for $1,750.

Dolan explains,

The father claimed that his travel agent in Massachusetts had made a mistake. He requested we send the overage — $950 — back to him.

I offered to send a personal check and be done with it, but he adamantly requested that we wire the money via Western Union.

Dolan wanted to be careful before wiring money.

I deposited the Chase Bank certified check into my personal account, waited 48 hours for the check to “clear” (or so I thought) and then wrote a personal check, cashed it and sent the money via Western Union.

The check ended up being counterfeit – and neither Dolan’s bank nor Western Union are planning to give him anything back.

The money was gone.

Is this a scam? Dolan thinks so, and the Better Business Bureau agrees. It named this check cashing scam one of the top ten scams of 2011.

If this isn’t a scam, then both father and daughter would have stepped forward to fix this. But like the money, they are gone without a trace.

From a consumer advocate perspective, these sorts of transactions should be approached with more diligence. Take the check to the bank personally — no ATM’s. Sit down with a representative and get it sent to the proper people for examination first.

With a little more patience, scrutiny, and common sense, any consumer can avoid getting scammed.

(Photo: im no hero/Flickr)