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How to Spot a Forged Check

by : Stan Jaslar

Before cashing or accepting a check, your tellers should look it over using the Z-method. That means they should review the details on the check from the top left corner to the bottom right corner, looking for issues or errors with the check issuer, distorted images, incorrect dates, out-of-sequence check numbers, discrepancies between the written and numerical values, and the routing and account numbers at the base of the check. But, when they get to the signature, what should they look for? To spot forged checks, keep these tips in mind.

Ask for ID

When cashing a check for a customer, you should always ask for identification. Even if the records show that a customer comes to that branch often, your teller should still ask to see their ID. If you deposit the check and give the recipient cash but find out later that a stranger actually forged your customer’s signature on the endorsement line, you will be responsible for the loss. Typically, by the time forged endorsements are found, the scam artist is long gone.

Look for the Criminal Tremor

The criminal tremor refers to the shaky writing of most forgeries. If you are depositing a check for a client and you see the hint of a tremor in the signature line, you may want to stop and take some extra steps to verify the check. In these cases, you usually won’t be held liable for the check, but if it’s a forgery, the owner of the account on which the check was drawn will probably issue a stop payment on the check. At that point, you will need to reverse the amount that has been credited to your customer’s account. If that account falls negative and the customer can’t rectify the situation, you may end up with a loss.

Be Cautious of Stamped Signatures on Personal Checks

Businesses have used stamped signatures for decades, but most personal checks are not signed with a stamp. If your customer is depositing a personal check, you may want to start by asking them if they were expecting the check. This simple question encourages customers to tell you if they received the check unexpectedly from a stranger online, and if so, you can dig deeper to help the customer figure out if the check is fraudulent.

On top of that, feel the signature. If it’s been written with a pen, it should have some texture. In contrast, stamps are usually smooth. Then, look at the signature with a magnifying glass. With stamps, you usually see more ink on the edges than you do with a written signature. Additionally, most stamp ink appears to have a slightly purple hue. Written signatures tend to have tunnels or ridges running through the ink. You don’t get that with stamps, autopens, or signing machines which may all be used in scams which involve forging a high number of checks.

Hold the Signature Up to the Light

Looking at the signature in the light can also give you clues as to whether or not it’s a forgery. Usually, very faint or equal amounts of pressure throughout the signature indicate that it’s a fake. Typically, people write their own signatures very deliberately (which makes them not appear faint), and most people use a variety of different pressure levels when signing their name. For instance, they may put more pressure on downward strokes and less on the tails of letters.

Compare with the Signature on File

If the check has been written from your bank, you can compare the signature on the check to the signature on file. Tools such as SENTRY: eSigning make it easy to capture your customer’s signatures and store them in a database where they can be found easily. As needed, you can simply pull up the signature and make sure it matches.

Invest in Signature Verification Tools

The above tips can help you spot forgeries in your financial institution, but you probably process a lot of checks electronically. To help with that process, consider investing in automated signature verification tools. SENTRY: SigCheck can identify fraudulent signatures on on-us checks. Then, the software can display the reference signature in the workflow so that your tellers can compare the signatures and decide whether or not to approve the check

At SQN Banking Solutions, we offer SENTRY: SigCheck and a variety of other tools. Our role is to make fraud protection as easy as possible for our clients. To learn more about our services, contact us.

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