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Scammers Know 'Cleared' Check May Have Insufficient Funds

By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Think you're too smart to fall for the old Nigerian check cashing scheme? Maybe think again.

A Houston lawyer has sued Citibank, apparently for allowing him to fall victim to a version of the old Nigerian check cashing scam. The way the scam usually works is that a person or a company gets a check from someone far in excess of the value of the goods or services actually being bought. The scammer then tells the person to cash the check and send him the extra. Sound obvious: wait until the check clears and then send the money.

That is exactly what the lawyer did and still was scammed. How? There ís a wrinkle in the banking laws that scammers know and use against even smart lawyers.

Under the laws passed to speed up bank transactions, a check often clears BEFORE the bank determines if the funds are available. That's what scammers count on, because it means that even once you deposit a check and it shows up as cleared, it could still bounce later.

How do you protect yourself?

First, be very wary of any contact that is made over the internet promising money by someone you don't know. And second, wait 14 days from the time you deposit a check to make sure that the funds are available, even if the bank tells you in 24 hours that the check cleared.

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