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How to Tell If a Check Is Fake

Checks may not be the most popular way to pay or get paid anymore, but that means fraudsters can take advantage of how unfamiliar most people are with these types of financial documents. Fake checks are more than just a nuisance, they’re illegal. Here’s how to make sure you’ve got the real deal.

What does a fake check look like?

A fake check needs to be able to trick people, therefore, it may not look any different to a real check. Being unable to recognize a fake check is the goal of check kiting fraudsters and it’s just one of many types of fraud that you or your business may face, so if you have any doubt, do some further investigation.

There are several things you should consider that have nothing to do with the actual look or feel of the check, but the details it contains, including:

  • Do you recognize the sender and the bank?

  • Does the person you received it from have a history of bounced checks?

  • Does the amount promised look unrealistic?

  • Are you being forced to act in order to receive the check?

For the most part, people receive checks from people they know, like friends or family, or know what amount to expect, such as situations where you have discussed a refund with a company before the check was dispatched.

If you receive a check out of the blue, then you should definitely question its authenticity. In some cases, you can call a bank and verify the funds of the account the check has come from, but other banks may refuse to share any information in the interest of customer privacy. 

You should also never send money or share details if you get a message telling you that you are a “lucky winner” and in order to receive your prize, you will need to pay a fee. This is almost certainly a scam, and any check you receive will be fake.

So, what does a fake check look like?

Real check vs. fake check

There are several physical signs you should look for if you suspect your check is fake:

  1. Bank address. If there isn’t one, or it’s incomplete, you can check the correct details online or by phone.

  2. Numbers don’t match. The check number in the upper right-hand corner must match the number on the MICR line.

  3. The MICR (Magnetic Ink Character Recognition) line. This is at the bottom of a check and should be matte, if these figures appear shiny then they haven’t been printed in magnetic ink.

  4. Fake or unclear bank logos. If you don’t recognize or cannot see a bank logo, it may be fake.

  5. Has it been ripped from a checkbook? Most authentic checks have an edge that is rougher than the other three, as proof that it’s been ripped from a checkbook. If a check is entirely smooth, it might be a fake print.

  6. Signature authenticity. Can you see proof of pen pressure or does it appear grainy? It may be a fake scan.

  7. Paper weight. Sometimes you can feel whether a check is trustworthy or not, simply because it’s been printed on cheaper, lighter paper.

How do banks verify checks?

Banks can verify checks by checking the funds of the account it was sent from. It’s worth noting that a bank will not verify your check before it processes it, meaning you may face fees for trying to cash a bad check. The bank checks if there are funds in the account, and if not, the check bounces. If you are suspected of knowingly cashing bad checks, you may face legal repercussions.

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