Is it OK to accept a personal check from someone you do not know?
A few days ago I discussed my family’s decision to sell a beautiful executive desk on Craigslist. What I failed to mention in that article was the payment method I accepted when the buyer showed up at my house.
As with most of my Craigslist transactions, this sale started with an email inquiry from a prospective buyer asking if the desk was still available. I told the individual that it was and and after a few more emails answering questions and sending more pictures, we agreed on a time to show the desk.
Having been through many Craiglist transactions over the last few years( including the sale of a car and a motorcycle), I assumed the individual would either be showing up with cash or a certified check.
When we reached an agreement on the sale of the desk, I was a little surprised when the individual asked me if I would accept a personal check.
“I would rather have cash or a cashiers check” I said.
“Well, I was going to get cash, but I would prefer to write a check so I could write the item off as a business expense” the buyer said.
I was a little hesitant but quickly thought of a solution.
“OK, as long as I can call the bank to verify the funds I’ll do it” I said.
“Oh sure no problem, let me see if I have their phone number” (incidentally, the bank’s phone number was not on the check).
While the buyer was busy looking for the banks phone number, I continued helping another lady load the desk into the buyer’s vehicle.
I knew from the individual’s email signature that she worked for a prominent insurance company in the area and the likelihood of her trying to pull one over on me was low, but I was still cautious.
I was concerned the check was either stolen, counterfeit, or there were inadequate funds to cover the amount.
I could have just pulled up the banks phone number on the Internet and verified the check and account right there, but I took a calculated risk and told the buyer it was fine.
I trusted my instincts but looking back, I should have been more careful…
Tips for Accepting Personal Checks:
- Verify the individual’s ID (driver’s license, etc.)
- Call the bank the check is drawn on to verify the funds.
- Ask for additional identification items (business cards, phone #’s, etc.)
- Record the license plate # of the vehicle (if the vehicle is from out of state, but the buyer has a local ID, be extremely cautious).
Although the buyer seemed to have a legitimate email account, business card, and personalized checks, I should have at least verified her identity by asking for her driver’s license. A lesson learned for next time I suppose…
In the end it all worked out. I cashed the check using my bank’s amazing deposit at home feature where the checks were deposited directly into my bank account via my home computer’s scanner. It wasn’t until a few days later that I received confirmation that the check had actually cleared.
Maybe I was too trustworthy, or naive. Either way, valuable lessons were learned that day and I hope that you too can learn from my mistakes.