Foreign boyfriend's check-cashing request sounds like fraud

Romantic swindlers are everywhere on the Web

To Her Credit columnist Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for, and also wrote for MSN Money, and, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.

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Question Dear To Her Credit,
My boyfriend is in Africa. He was paid by a check for work that he did, but the check can only be cashed in the U.S. He opened up an authorized account and deposited his whole check into this account. The authorized card will be sent to me in my name in four business days. He needs money to be sent to him for a plane ticket and to pay his hotel bills before leaving Africa. Is this legal for me to send him the money from this card? -- Linda

Answer Dear Linda,
It may or may not be legal, but it's certainly not smart. Friends don't ask friends to cash checks for them. When friends in other countries ask you to cash checks and send them money, they're not your friends.

I see only two possibilities for what is going on here. Either someone is impersonating your boyfriend and trying to get money from you, or your boyfriend is a fraud.

If you know your boyfriend in person and are absolutely sure of his character and good intentions, then someone is pretending to be him. This happens all the time. A close friend of mine received a phone call from his grandson, or so he thought, saying he was stranded in Canada and needed money. My friend was so convinced that it was his grandson that he went to Western Union to wire $2,000 to him. Fortunately, the Western Union representative asked a few questions that got him wondering if it was legitimate. Sure enough, he called his real grandson and discovered him at home, safe and sound, and unaware someone was using his name to try to bilk Grandpa.

If you met your boyfriend on the Internet, I have bad news for you. There's a whole industry of con artists who do nothing all day but try to contact men and women for "romance." Sooner or later, the romantic swindlers inevitably request money or help cashing checks. One of my friends knows someone who thought she was dating an American military general. Another of my friends lent $1,500 to someone who wanted to help her phantom boyfriend move back to the States. It happens.

Don't think that it's OK if the check clears. A so-called cleared check doesn't mean much. The bank can discover weeks later that the check is no good, at which point they will take the money from your account. One more example just from my own circle of friends: Someone in the eastern U.S. sent my friend three checks for $900 each and asked her to send the money back after the checks cleared. She waited until the checks cleared, and then was about to send a check to him. Fortunately, before she sent the check she got a notice from the bank that the checks were returned.

When this person discovered she'd been part of a scam, she asked the bank representative if she would have been liable if she had sent the check. The representative said that not only would she have been liable for the money, but if it happened more than once, she could be criminally liable. The bank representative said, "The first time, you're a victim. The second time, you're an accomplice."

I just gave you four examples, three of people I know very well, and one who is a friend of a friend. These are not stupid people. Can you imagine how many people in the country must have similar experiences?

I'm sorry I don't have better news for you, but at least I hope you haven't sent money. The chances that your boyfriend really needs you to cash a check are as good as zero. If he's working in Africa, he gets paid in Africa. If he worked in the U.S. and just got paid, he can have the money sent to him by his U.S. bank. You're not a bank. Don't try to be one.

See related: 8 hot scams and how not to fall for them

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Updated: 03-22-2019