While the use of paper checks has been declining, criminals have been increasingly targeting mailboxes to commit check fraud. In fact, in February 2023, the Financial Crimes Enforcement sent out an alert regarding the rise in mail theft-related check fraud schemes. Criminals also take over accounts and steal information to print their own fake checks.
But, how exactly do you know if the check you received is fake or legitimate? Whether you’re accepting the check over the counter at the branch or letting it clear from a client’s account, you need to be able to spot fakes. To help you out, here are 10 signs of fake checks.
1. Irregular Perforations
Check the sides of your check for any rough edges. Genuine checks feature at least one rough edge and are perforated. Scammers are now printing their own checks with MICR capability on their own printers. These checks often lack perforations or have difficult-to-find micro-perforations.
2. Irregular Check Numbers
In some circumstances, fake checks may include abnormalities in their check numbers. This includes the following irregularities:
Out of Place
If a check is genuine, it should have a check number printed in the top right-hand corner. Keep an eye out for checks with the number printed somewhere else.
Out of Order
Out-of-sequence check orders may mean that your client lost a checkbook and started writing checks from a new one, but in other cases, it can be a sign of a fake. If you receive a much lower check number than usual from a customer, look into the issue. Also, be on alert for duplicate check numbers.
To see if you have a real check, compare the check number in the top right corner against the number in the MICR line. The MICR line includes the account number, routing number, and check number. If the MICR line does not match the check number, the check is most likely a fake.
Low Check Number
While a low check number does not necessarily imply that a check is fake, it does suggest the establishment of a new checking account and a higher risk of fraud. Remember that 90% of bad checks are drawn from checking accounts that are less than a year old, so this could be cause for concern. Watch for personal checks with numbers in the low three digits, and business checks with numbers in the low four digits.
3. Incorrect Routing Number
Fraudulent checks frequently have routing numbers that do not match the bank name on the check. The routing number is the nine-digit number written at the bottom of the check in the MICR line. You can easily check by searching for the bank’s correct number online or using the Federal Reserve Bank Services website. If the routing number you find doesn’t match the name of the bank on the check, it is most likely a fake.
4. Stains or Discolorations
The presence of stains or discolorations is a common indicator of a fraudulent check. This may happen if a scammer tampers with the check or erases something. When looking for fake checks, check for color smears when rubbing. Genuine checks should be properly printed, with no rubbing or smearing. Try moistening your finger and lightly running it along the check’s print. If the ink spreads, you may have a fake.
5. Poor Paper Quality
Genuine checks are often printed on high-quality paper. If your check feels thin or slick, or if the paper is poor quality, you may be dealing with a fake.
6. Mismatched Numerical and Written Check Amounts
The check’s numerical and written amounts should always match. If they don’t, you likely have a fake. In some cases, the individual who wrote the check may have made a mistake, but even if they did, they will need to rewrite the check.
7. Misspelled or Missing Bank Names
Fake checks frequently include fictitious addresses or P.O. box numbers in place of the bank’s actual address. Some poor-quality fakes even spell the bank’s name incorrectly. You can determine whether a bank printed on a check is legitimate by using the FDIC BankFind service or by calling the bank using the information provided on its official website.
Additionally, a genuine check should have the logo of the issuing bank. If the check contains a logo for a bank you’ve never heard of — especially one with a generic name like “National Bank” — or if the logo is faded or otherwise irregular, it is most likely forged.
8. Government or Corporate Checks with Different Print Styles
The typeface on corporate or government checks should be consistent in both design and print. If there are mismatched printing fonts or other printing flaws, the check may be fake. Often, this happens when thieves erase the data printed on the check and inflate the amount.
9. Issues With the Account Holders’ Details
The check’s drawee’s name and address should be typed. This info should not be printed, and it should not contain any spelling mistakes. Sometimes, the customer’s name and/or address are completely absent on a fake check.
10. Other Discrepancies
Examine presented checks to ensure there are no additional unusual aspects. Check that the check amount matches the spelled-out amount and that there are no spelling problems. Also, look for any parts that appear to have been wiped or altered.
Contact SQN Banking Systems for Help with Check Fraud
At SQN Banking Sytems, we offer comprehensive solutions to help financial institutions detect and prevent check fraud as well as other types of payment fraud. To protect your bank, contact us today. We’ll help you find tailored solutions for your unique risk profile.