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What Is Check Forgery?

Checks may be altered and rewritten for a large sum of money.
Forging a signature on a real check is one type of check forgery.
Check washing is a form of check forgery that occurs when all inked information is erased from a check.
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  • Written By: Patrick Roland
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2014
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Check forgery is the act of falsifying a negotiable written instrument in order to collect money that does not belong to the forger. This type of check fraud is generally encountered in three ways: forged signatures on real checks, check washing, and fake checks. In most countries, this type of embezzlement is illegal and the liability may fall on the person cashing the check unless the forger is brought to justice.

One common type of check forgery deals with falsified signatures on real checks. This happens most often when a blank check is stolen. The thief forges the account holder's name on a check and uses it to acquire goods or cash the check for money. Canceling checks as soon as checks are missing or stolen is one method to prevent this type of forgery from happening.

Another method of check forgery is known as check washing. This process involves stealing a legitimate check while in transit from one party to another, usually through mail theft, and using it for fraud. The fraud occurs when the forger erases all inked information except for the signature and changes the payee name to the forger's name. The forger may also increase the amount substantially. This falsified check is then taken to a bank to be cashed.

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A similar technique to check washing involves altering written details on a check. This crime happens when a check is legitimately written out to a forger for a specified amount. In this case, care is taken by the forger to match the color of ink used by the check writer in order to change the payment amount on the check. This is done by adding and altering numbers and doing the same to the spelled-out sum on the check.

Fake checks are less common in the world of check forgery, but can be more difficult to detect. In this instance, a forger creates a check, adding realistic account and routing information. This forged check is passed off as a legitimate check in exchange for goods or cash.

Laws prosecuting check forgery vary from country to country. In most cases, a bank or business catches the misleading check because employees are trained to spot forgeries. In some situations, the person cashing the check, even if unknowingly handling a falsified check, may be held liable for the loss. Taking the check forger to court is the most common way of getting the funds replaced.

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anon306485
Post 8

Check forgery is a felony and I recently was a "victim"? but convicted for the crime. I was given a counterfeit check that I thought was legit and now I'm facing imprisonment. What's a girl to do? Don't take checks from anyone!

strawCake
Post 6

@ceilingcat - I'd like to by sympathetic to people who get bamboozled by check forgers too. However, I think everyone needs to take personal responsibility for their actions. If part of your job is looking out for check fraud, then you should do so!

Also, I can see this getting abused. If someone who takes a fraudulent check doesn't suffer any consequences, what's to stop criminals from teaming up with people who take checks? They could split the profits, and nothing would happen to the person who took the check because they wouldn't be liable.

ceilingcat
Post 5

You know, I really don't think the liability should be on the person who cashed the check. They're an innocent victim too! It sounds like a lot of the forgeries are very convincing. I don't know that I'd be able to tell the difference myself.

Yes, if you work in a job where you deal with checks, you should be diligent about paying attention to the checks you take. However, anyone can make a mistake. I think the liability should always be on the forger. And if the forger can't be found, it seems like business insurance should cover something like this.

honeybees
Post 4

It seems like check fraud forgery is pretty common among small time criminals. There is hardly a week that goes by that I don't hear of someone on the news who is arrested and check forgery is either part of their past, or the reason for their present arrest.

If you are in a desperate situation, it probably seems like a pretty quick and easy way to get some money or make purchases. I think it is considered a felony if you are found guilty of check forgery.

You would think this would make people stop and think twice before doing something like this. It seems like it always catches up to them sooner or later.

I guess people who commit this crime aren't thinking about the long term consequences when they do something like this.

John57
Post 3

It seems like businesses that accept checks are much more diligent than they used to be when it comes to checking identification, but it still surprises me the number of check forgery cases they have every year.

I was doing some major house cleaning and sorting, and donated a large box of items to one of our local thrift stores.

Without realizing it, there was a box of blank checks that ended up in the items I donated. Thankfully, this bank account had been closed, but this still could have been a serious issue.

My phone number happened to be on the checks, and I was not even aware of it until the store called me and told me about it. I am so thankful these checks did not end up in the hands of the wrong people.

It would have been easy for someone to commit check forgery with a whole box of blank checks made available to them.

cupcake15
Post 2

@Mutsy - I saw a movie the other day that was a true story that was based on a man which made a living creating counterfeit checks and cashing them.

He was so good at producing these fake checks that he went undetected for years and was able to cash checks that reached over four million dollars.

The feds did catch this guy and although he was convicted and initially facing a ten year prison sentence, the F.B.I. decided to have him work for them in their check fraud division.

He was even able to train banks on how to spot these counterfeit checks. It was an amazing story.

mutsy
Post 1

When I worked in the customer service counter of a local supermarket we used to get be on the lookout bulletins or bolos for check kiting schemes.

These are people that would write multiple checks that they knew had no funds in the account. By the time the store realized that these checks were bad the crooks made off with a lot of money or merchandise and then went off to their next victim.

We also had bulletins for stolen checks but I never saw anyone trying to cash a stolen check.

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