Gone But Not Forgotten

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, June 8, 2006; 11:52 AM

First it was Al Crenshaw and now Caroline Mayer. Where have all the columnists gone?

Well, they are kicking back enjoying retirement. Oh, if I could be so blessed.

As part of a huge buyout at The Washington Post, several long-time financial columnists have left the financial pages. This week I want to toast Caroline Mayer, who has done a wonderful job covering consumer issues. To read some of her latest articles go here.

A particular must-read is "Banks Honor Bogus Checks and Scam Victims Pay." There's a scam out there that can do wicked damage to your finances. Often the targets are folks selling something on the Internet. Here's how it works: The buyer sends a check for the item but it's more than the agreed-upon price. The buyer tells the seller to wire back the overpayment. The buyer deposits the check, which appears to be cleared by the bank -- but it turns out to be a fake.

This is a sweet con with sour results.

Thousands of consumers have been victimized by this scam because of vagaries in the banking system, according to authorities. Federal rules require banks to release funds from a consumer's deposit quickly, usually within one to five business days, depending on the kind of check. However, it can take weeks before a bank discovers a check is fraudulent.

As Mayer reported, here are some questions to ask to keep you clear of this scam:

-- Is the check for an item you sold on the Internet, such as a car, boat or jewelry? Is it for more than the item's selling price?

-- Is the check drawn on a business or individual account showing a different name than the buyer's?

-- Are you receiving a commission for facilitating money transfers through your account?

-- Have you been asked to pay to receive a deposit from another country such as Canada, England or Nigeria?

I'll miss Mayer but fortunately she will still be with us. She will continue to submit updates to her consumer blog, "The Checkout."

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