We are two Swedish girls that have just finished our second semester at SBCC in Santa Barbara. We have a story that we want to share with you.
We live in a little house here in Santa Barbara. We share this house with two American people. We are going back to Sweden during the summer and to be able to keep the house we needed to rent out a room because we could not pay for it when we were back in Sweden for the summer. We put up an ad up on Craigslist.
We got many responses from people that were interested to rent the place. A girl named Laura wanted to rent the room for the summer. She promised to send a check for two months’ rent and $500 in deposit, so in total she was going to send us a check for $2,500. She was not American and our landlord could not do a credit check on her; that´s why she was going to pay for the whole summer in advance.
The same day that we got the check from her our landlord told us that we could not sublease during the summer. We told Laura the same day that she could not rent the room and we would just rip the check and nothing would happen. She told us not to do that, she told us to instead send the money to her agency otherwise she will have a lot of problems to get the money. She told us several times that we had to send the money back.
We sent the money back through Western Union, just because we wanted to be nice and we trusted her. One week later we got a letter from [a major multinational bank with branches in Santa Barbara] telling us that we owed them $2,500 because the check was not real.
For you Americans that read this: You think that this was a stupid thing to do because you are never supposed to cash-in a check before it clears. We come from a country where we don´t use checks. And we thought the only way to be able to get money from a check is if it is real and has money on it. We never thought that you could cash in so much money and later find out it´s not real.
We are really disappointed at [the bank] because when we were cashing in the check the teller did not say anything about that, like maybe we should wait a few days to be sure it clears. She gave us $2,500 in cash, and we told her that we were going to send the money back through Western Union. Even her manager saw that we were given $2,500 in cash, and saw and our Swedish passports, and did not even react or question why we were cashing in so much money.
When we spoke to our friends about what happened to us, they said, “Oh no, you should never do that.” Well, we know that now. But how come every American knows about this but nobody is talking about it? When we went back to the bank and spoke to a personal banker he told us that check frauds happen every day. If the bank knows that check frauds happen every day, why did not the teller or her boss say anything to us, that we should wait a few days before we cash it in or that we should speak to a personal banker first? This “unwritten American law” that you should wait until a check clears, why does nobody tell foreign students about it? How are we supposed to know about this if nobody tells us?
We are not blaming anyone for this. We know that it is our fault but we are just questioning why [the bank] did not say anything to us. [The bank] is not helping us with any of the money we got scammed on. We think they should at least take some of the responsibility for this because this would never have happened if they would have told us to speak to a personal banker before we cashed in so much money or if they would have told us to wait a few days.
After this, we’ve learned that other banks don’t give out that amount of money in cash so easily, and that they even make phone calls to the person on the check, or their bank, to verify. [The bank] also has people on SBCC campus so that all international students easily can open an American bank account. This means that they must have many international customers, so we definitely expected more from them.
With this letter to you we wish that all international students, workers, and tourists can be warned about something that is so obvious to Americans, but not for everyone else. We also want [the bank] to see their mistake and for them to try and take better care of the international students.