Tips to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Worthless, Forged, or Counterfeit Checks
Short of refusing to accept checks as a form of payment, there is no way to guarantee that you will not be the victim of a worthless, forged, or counterfeit check. However, there are several steps you can take to reduce the chance that you will be victimized. In an effort to assist the merchant community and the general public in achieving a better awareness of this widespread problem, the District Attorney’s Worthless Check Unit suggests the following:
1. When accepting a check, run your finger along all sides of the check. Most genuine checks have at least one side with perforations (some have as many as three sides perforated). A bogus check is usually smooth on all sides. The only genuine checks which are smooth on all sides are U.S. Government checks and some state checks.
2. Note the print quality of the check. Bogus checks are frequently printed on home computers and the print quality rarely meets the standard of genuine checks. Also note whether or not the color of the check is permanent. A check that smudges is likely to be counterfeit.
3. Always note the presence (or absence) of the standard security features on a check. Features such as watermarks and micro printing are generally not present on bogus checks.
4. Note the check number. Low numbers indicate that the account is relatively new and may be more suspect than a long established account. Also be wary of counter checks since there is no quick way to verify that the account holder name that is handwritten on the check corresponds to the actual account holder.
5. Check the date of the check to insure that it is accurate. Do not accept a post-dated check (for example, the check is presented on June 1st but is actually dated for June 15th). Also, do not accept a check when the issuer requests that you hold it until a specified date or if he/she tells you there is not enough money in the account to cover the check. Accepting such a check will preclude you from later filing a criminal complaint with the Worthless Check Unit.
6. Be wary of individuals passing an inordinate number of checks in a single day or over a short period of time. It may not be unusual for a legitimate customer to visit a store more than once a day. However, we frequently handle cases where suspiciously high numbers of worthless or forged checks are passed at a single store (or different locations of the same business) in a short period of time. An example would be an individual who negotiates 6 or 7 checks in a single day at an area convenience store. Such activity should draw the attention of the cashiers and manager.
7. Most importantly of all, you should obtain the check writer’s personal ID information. Ask to see a valid driver’s license or state identification card (in Alabama, ID card numbers begin with the letter “I”). Make sure that the picture on the ID matches the person presenting the check. A favorite trick of check forgers is to claim that the account holder is a friend or relative who has given him/her permission to negotiate the check. While this may be true in some cases, you should consider rejecting the check if you are unable to verify the individual’s claim. Another tactic check forgers employ is to claim to have left their driver’s license or ID at home or in the car. Unless the individual is personally known to you, you should consider rejecting the check.
8. Record all pertinent information from the ID card or driver’s license on the check. Include the driver’s license or ID card number, the state of issue, date of birth, social security number (if present), race, sex, and finally expiration date. Once the information is recorded, the clerk should initial the check to indicate that he or she actually looked at an ID and verified that the person presenting the check matched the photo on the ID.
Be aware that many checks have some ID information (typically a driver’s license number) printed on them already. While this is convenient, you should still ask to see a valid ID and record the information described above.
9. Make sure that all contact information (name, address, and phone number) on the front of the check is correct and legible. Frequently, a business check will be referred to our office where the individual’s name is not printed on the check and the signature is illegible. By obtaining the full name and ID information from the person presenting the check, delays or an inability to prosecute can be avoided if the check is later returned to you. Also make sure that any new address handwritten on the check by the customer is both legible and complete.