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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 assignment.
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:
  1. 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.

  2. Draw a line after the payee's name to prevent forgers from creating an alternate payee by adding "or" and another name.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Never presign a blank check.
  7. Don't write share drafts with pencils or erasable pens.

  8. 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:

  9. 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.
  10. 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 signature.
  11. 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.

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