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It's never wise to accept checks for big ticket items like cars

POSTED July 11, 2012 8:28 a.m.
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Our society has been plagued with the problem of phony checks for a while, and now most people are leery of taking personal checks - or any kind of check, for that matter - when selling multiple or big ticket items. Unfortunately, there are still those who do not fully understand the threats awaiting them by receiving checks as payment. With the advent of high-quality printers and software that actually allows consumers to create checks for their accounts, criminals can use the same methods to create checks that look completely legitimate. The same goes for cashier's checks, money orders, travelers' checks and the like.

Many point-of-sale businesses (most any kinds of retail stores) no longer take checks because of the rampant fraud that takes place. Even with "proper" identification and the various check verification systems used at businesses, criminals still manage to pass innumerable fraudulent checks. It may seem like the problem of fake checks being used to pay businesses only affects them, but the fact is that the cost of these losses is passed along to the consumer. We all pay higher prices for everything because of fraudulent checks and shoplifting, and these losses are huge! No one knows the amount lost each year, but I have to guess that it is in the billions of dollars. Of course, businesses are not the only victims; private party sales frequently involve payment by checks, so individuals are often victimized.

Because of the high amounts of money usually involved, when selling a car, it is never wise to accept a check for full or partial payment, unless the seller knows the buyer or otherwise has a method of verifying that the buyer is honest. As I stated previously, all forms of checks can - and are - easily printed at home. It is important to take the extra time to complete a transaction of this kind at the bank, or to require cash. A seller might feel like they are offending the prospective buyer, but in these times with all the rampant fraud, no one should be offended when a seller uses caution. If the seller is worried about losing a sale, common sense should kick in, because if the buyer is legitimate, they will not back out of the purchase just because the seller is trying to protect their interests.

One of the best ways to complete a transaction involving a lot of money is to meet the buyer at his or her bank, and watch as the cashiers' check is paid for and transferred to you. And once you have the check, do not delay in having it deposited in your own bank.

And even when cash is being used to pay for a valuable item, be sure to check each bill to ensure that it is not counterfeit. You can research the internet for ways to check for counterfeit currency. Keep in mind that carrying a lot of cash has its problems as well. Deposit cash into your bank without delay, and when handling the transaction, try to have at least one other person present with you.

One criminal tactic involves a person paying the seller cash for a car. Once they have the car, the bill of sale and the signed ownership title (the "pink slip"), they make a quick phone call to a co-conspirator who then robs the seller or breaks into their house to steal the cash. Not only does the criminal end up with the car and its legal ownership title, but they also get their cash back. The police are often successful in solving these cases, but it takes time and it is not often that the victim is made "whole" once the case is settled. It pays to be careful, and some people simply choose to sell their cars through dealerships or brokers to avoid problems, even though private party sales net the seller more money.

These tips are not intended to make people paranoid. Rather, the point is to increase awareness and to help sellers outsmart the criminals that are practiced and just waiting to prey on a new victim. When the stakes are high, the threats are also correspondingly high. It takes a fair amount of caution and awareness when selling things of value, so be prepared and trust no one unless you have personal knowledge of them.
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