Being Alert to Check Alterations

Money services businesses that cash checks should be alert to the potential of losses due to the acceptance of altered checks. A person with false identification documents could cash an altered check resulting in a loss to the business. Or, the person could cash an altered check using legitimate documentation but assume that you and/or the police will not pursue the matter for relatively small losses.

Altered Checks

A genuine check on which a criminal has changed the amount, payee name or other critical information is said to have been “altered.” For example, a criminal may change a check written for $100 to $180 and change the written amount from “one hundred” to “one hundred eighty.” Prime targets for such fraud are checks written so that much space is left after the words and before the “dollars” printed on the amount line. Criminals might also try to change or erase and then re-write the payee on a check.

Sometimes a criminal will only change one feature of the check. Careful observation of the item before cashing it will protect against loss in such cases. For example, if a $100 check is altered to show $400 the observant check casher would note that the written amount still showed “one hundred” and would not cash the item.

Check cashers should be especially careful when cashing checks for new or unknown customers whose names start with “Co”. Stolen checks payable to a “co”mpany could potentially be altered and presented for cashing with a false ID. For example, a check payable to “The Stanley Co.” could be altered to show “Stanley Collins.”

Avoid Cashing Altered Checks

  • Know your endorser
  • Don’t allow presenters to distract or hurry you
  • Always confirm that numeric and written amounts match
  • Be alert for check payee names that could easily have been altered from business names
  • Be alert for signs of alteration such as different inks

Remember too that as a check casher you are under no obligation to accept and cash a check. If something doesn’t look or feel legitimate, you can simply choose to pass on that item. No explanation is required.