7 On Your Side:Not In The Clear - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

8/14/06-East Texas

7 On Your Side:Not In The Clear

  A rare collector's car got lots of lookers when it went up for sale online. So owners Shawn and Jeff Mosch weren't shocked when a buyer from Africa was revved to pay full price. Then, things got suspicious. 
  "He had somebody in the states that owed him some money, so he asked if it was okay if that person in the states send a cashier's check," says Jeff. 
  The Mosches could deduct the cost of the car and then wire the rest. They were nervous, but deposited the check figuring they'd be safe as long as they checked with their bank before withdrawing any money. 
  "We waited 48 hours and went back to the bank. [The teller] gave me the check amount and said, 'Yup, the money is in your account.'" recalls Shawn. 
  So they wired $7,200 to Africa. Then, a week later, they say the bank told them the check was counterfeit and they were responsible! They were furious--not only at the scammers, but at their bank!
   Shawn adds, "I said, 'How can something that was good a week ago suddenly not be good, and it be my fault?'"  
  "There can be some confusion between when funds are available and whether a check is good," says Nessa Feddis with American Bankers Association.  
  Feddis says the confusion occurs because federal law requires banks to release funds quickly, sometimes within 24 hours.  Yet says Feddis,"It will take some weeks sometimes to determine whether that check is actually a good check."
  Consumer advocates say it's up to bank employees to be more clear. "Sometimes a teller will tell them a check is cleared when they really mean the hold has been removed, and the funds are available," says Joe Ridout with Consumer Action. 
  "By law, the banks have to tell the consumer that funds are available and if they, at the same time, suggest that the consumer shouldn't withdraw the funds because the check might not be good, they could be accused of violating the law," adds Feddis. 
  This is some how East Texas banks say they handle fraudulent checks: Bank of America puts a 5-11 day hold on a check to determine its legitimacy. Austin Bank says it handles it more on a case-by-case basis depending on factors that make the check particularly suspicious. Austin Bank says it will work with the customer if they believe the check is fraudulent. Texas Bank and Trust also says their clearing process also depends on how suspicious the check looks.  They say the size of the check is a factor, and international checks get much more scrutiny. 
  To protect yourself, ask the bank if the check's been confirmed as legitimate... Verify the check with the issuing bank....or ask the buyer to send a postal money order. "If the post office cashes it, it's legitimate, and if they don't, you know right there on the spot that this was a fraud," says Ridout.
  The American Bankers Association says the reason the law allows you access to funds before they are verified is because congress decided the convenience and benefits far outweigh the risks. More than 99% of the 37 billion checks cashed in this country are perfectly fine.

Christine Nelson reporting. cnelson@kltv.com

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