How to protect against check fraud

Carmen Gonzalez Caldwell
Carmen Gonzalez Caldwell

Several businesses have asked me to publish information as to what they can do to avoid fraud, so this column is for them.

Bad checks affect everyone in terms of higher consumer costs that must be paid to offset losses, as well as the costs involved in law enforcement and prosecution. There is no completely “safe” method of screening checks, even certified checks can be forged or altered. The best rule is still "KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER."

Set up a check cashing and credit card acceptance policy to limit losses. Decide which checks you will accept and set a limit on the amount.

The single most important element to cutting losses and providing customer service is employee training. Make sure employees know and adhere to store policy. The following are guidelines to set up when establishing your policy.

Avoiding Bad Checks

Remember that a check is not legal tender. You are doing the customer a favor by cashing a check. Keep the following in mind:

Bad checks are most frequently passed on weekends and holidays.

Calling a telephone number on a check is not real protection against a forger. The forger may have an accomplice answer the phone. Anyone can get a name from the phone book.

A bankbook is no proof of funds in the bank.

A driver's license or credit card alone is not sufficient ID when cashing checks for strangers. Temporary driver’s licenses, social security cards, work permits, voter registration cards, and hunting or fishing licenses are not IDs.

You have no criminal recourse against the maker or payee on a two party check.

The police rely on merchants to report persons passing bad checks. But the police are not a collection agency.

Tips for Cashiers

Be sure the tended instrument is really a check and not a voucher or merchandise order.

Never take a postdated check. Make sure the check has the current date.

Make sure the check is complete and properly made out. Call your supervisor or the bank if you are in doubt.

Never accept an altered check or checks with erasures or written over amounts.

Never be afraid to ask for good ID. An honest person does not mind and you may deter a dishonest one.

Never let a payer hurry you in the examination of a check or ID. Be on guard when a "fast talker" attempts to cash a check.

Make sure the check has the name and location of the bank.

Make sure the written and numerical amounts match.

Initial the check so you can identify it later if necessary.

Get a complete description of the person if there is anything suspicious about the transaction. This can be written on the check.

Watch out for customers who ...

Chat a lot to distract the clerk or cashier

Delay purchases until the clerk is distracted or upset

Hurry the clerk just before closing time

Purchase a large item such as a console TV, and insist on carrying it out rather than having it delivered

Purchase without regard to size, color, style, or price, or refuse to have alterations which are included in the purchase price

National Fraud Information Center

Carmen Caldwell is executive director of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade. Send feedback and news for this column to, or call her at 305-470-1670.