What is our obligation to a bank if we were the victims of a check scam?

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What is our obligation to a bank if we were the victims of a check scam?

We had a refrigerator and a stove for sale on Craigslist. A person contacted us with interest in buying. The person sent us a check for $2600. My girlfriend cashed the check at the bank, that cashed it solely based on her being a “good customer”. The person immediately began sending abusive text messages that we needed to send the money back to her immediately, as they could no longer make the purchase. We sent them their money (or what we thought was their money) via MoneyGram according to their persistent demands. Then 2 days later my girlfriend found out that the amount of the check had been withdrawn by the bank as a result of the check being fraudulent. Do we have to cover the money?

Asked on February 13, 2016 under Business Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

Yes, you do. Because of your actions, the bank is out $2,600, when the bank did nothing wrong; it was your negligence, in not making sure that the check was valid or cleared before taking money out, that caused the loss. Therefore, you are liable to the bank and must reimburse it. In theory you could sue the people who scammed you for the money; in practice, you'll almost never find them or, if you do, get it from them. (You can and should also contact the police.)
NEVER deposit someone's check then return any money to them until and unless the check has cleared and then some--i.e. it's clear that it can no longer be dishonored. This is a common scam: send you a personal check, which can  be dishonored, but get "firm funds," like a money order, from you.
In this case, if you don't repay the bank, the bank can sue you.


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