t's probably been a long time since you learned the rules
for writing a check or share draft. In fact, you're likely
overdue for a review session.
Before you dismiss the idea, accept a small challenge: Try
listing five rules for writing a check that will make it
difficult for anyone to alter it. It may not be an easy
Writing checks probably is a routine activity like many
others in your life, say, driving a car or carrying in the
groceries. You probably don't think twice about rules and
procedures for performing these tasks. And, even if you've bent
the rules or developed some bad habits, you may not be aware of
it. Unless, that is, your bad habits lead to unintended and
unpleasant consequences--a speeding ticket, a sprained back, or
a forged check.|
Common sense rules for writing checks
Risk management experts suggest you follow these rules for
writing checks and share drafts:
- Write the name of the person or organization on the payee
line without using abbreviations such as "Co." and "Inc." A
skillful forger can alter such abbreviations to create a believable name.
- Draw a line after the payee's name to prevent forgers
from creating an alternate payee by adding "or" and another name.
- Print numbers as close to the preprinted dollar sign as
possible. This makes it difficult for someone to increase the
amount of the share draft by inserting a digit.
- Use capital letters to print in the written amount.
They're more difficult to alter than script. Begin your entry at
the far left side of the space and draw a line through any
remaining empty space.
- If you make a mistake, make a correction only if you can
do so neatly. Then initial it. If you can't make a correction,
rip up the share draft and mark it "void" in your register.
- Never presign a blank check.
- Don't write share drafts with pencils or erasable pens.
Make your signature distinctive and protect it
If your checks or share drafts are lost or stolen, they'll
be more difficult to forge if you also follow these rules:
- Sign your checks, don't autograph them. Save curlicues,
squiggles, and other fancy touches for personal correspondence.
Make your signature legible and consistent. Sign your name
rapidly and freely, connecting all the letters.
- Use a distinctive form of your name for signing checks,
share drafts, and other legal documents. For example, if you're
known as "Kathy Drew," you might reserve "Kathleen Drew" or
"Kathleen L. Drew" for this purpose. Anyone presenting a check
for payment with a different form of your name will be suspect if
this distinctive form of your signature is on file. This prevents
a forger from using personal correspondence to copy your
- Make certain the carbonless copies of duplicate share
drafts "block out" or otherwise obscure your signature. To guard
against leaving an impression of your signature on the next check
in your pad, use the plastic check separator included in check
covers. Or fill in all the information except your signature,
then remove the check from the pad and sign it on a hard surface.
An important precaution
Even if you follow the rules for writing checks, there's
another important step you should take to protect yourself from
check forgery, says Milton Lum, president of Hawaii Central
Credit Union in Honolulu. He suggests that credit union members
reconcile their statements every month.
||Forgery doesn't always involve large amounts of money
Forgery doesn't always involve large, obvious amounts of
money. A forger can fraudulently increase a carelessly written
check for $8 to $18--or $80--by inserting a single digit and
one or more letters. You might not spot the change unless you
routinely reconcile your account.
Your credit union has many safeguards to protect your funds,
but if your share drafts are lost or stolen, or if you believe
one has been altered, contact the credit union
immediately. When hundreds of dollars could be at stake, it's
foolish to try to save a few dollars in fees by delaying a stop-payment request.
Credit unions have a variety of policies and procedures for
dealing with check forgery. For instance, Lum would ask members
of his credit union who believe they're victims of a check forger
to come in to the office to fill out an affidavit. This would be
especially important, he says, if the member wanted to file a
claim because of wrongdoing. Policies at other credit unions
"depend on the circumstances."
Remember to treat your share drafts and checks with respect.
As with many other things we value, an ounce of attention is
worth a pound of cure.