Guide to Check Verification

By Ashley Kilroy · August 08, 2023 · 9 minute read

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Guide to Check Verification

No one wants to deposit a check that is fake or that bounces. That can trigger fees, not to mention frustration. Verifying a check can help protect you in this situation.

Perhaps you have received a check from someone you don’t know well, or the check appears odd, or you are simply aware of the fake check scams out there and prefer to be cautious with your bank deposits.

To help you avoid counterfeit checks, learn how to verify a check here. This can help cut down on the likelihood that you will be involved with fraudulent activity or simply a check that bounces.

What Is Check Verification?

Check verification is a process in which the payee, or recipient of a check, confirms that the check is valid and good. In other words, you are making sure that the check can be cashed, that it is not fraudulent, and that it will not bounce and trigger fees.

At a time when there’s a significant amount of fraudulent activity and fees, this can be a valuable process, saving you time, energy, and cash.

💡 Quick Tip: Typically, checking accounts don’t earn interest. However, some accounts do, and online banks are more likely than brick-and-mortar banks to offer you the best rates.

Verifying a Check

If you’re curious about how to validate a check, know this: Banks must process check funds quickly, sometimes as fast as two days by law. The bank may say that a check has cleared and the funds are available for use, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the check is valid.

It can take a few weeks to identify a fake check in some cases, and by that time it might be too late. You, the recipient, may have thought the funds were available and tried to use them.

To determine if a bank check or cashier’s check (vs. an electronic or e-check) is valid, consumers may have to do more than just a physical inspection of the check.

Here are a few ways to identify if a check is fake or valid.

•   Ensure a legitimate bank issues the check. Although a valid bank might issue some fake checks, a sure giveaway of a fake check is that a fake bank name is on it. To locate an FDIC insured bank in the US, consumers can use the FDIC BankFind Suite.

•   Call the bank the check is from. Look up the bank’s phone number on its website instead of using the phone number listed on the check. The number on the check might be a part of the scam, so it’s essential to call the official direct line to confirm the check’s validity. The bank might need the check number, issuance date, and amount to confirm if the check is real.

•   Complete an ABA routing number lookup. Developed by the American Bankers Association in 1910, the ABA routing number identifies the financial institution responsible for the payment. To make sure a check is valid, use a routing number lookup system for verification.

•   Take into consideration the origin of the check. If the check came from an unknown source, it’s wise to be skeptical of the payment. Scammers usually communicate via email or text message, which may contain grammatical errors.

•   Confirm the address the check was mailed from. If a check has a postmarked address that doesn’t match the issuing bank, it may denote a fake check. Be extra wary of any check that is sent from overseas.

•   Look for watermarks, security threads, or other security features printed on the check. If a scammer copies any of these features, the quality is often questionable.

•   Compare the check amount to the request. If the check amount is greater than the expected amount, this is a sign of a hoax the scammer may use to get the check receiver to wire funds back to them when the check is deposited.

Check Verification Services

If you receive a considerable number of checks on a regular basis (say, you run your own business), you might want to look into check verification services that help with this process.

If you hire one of these services, they can help you figure out if the check is likely to be good. They can reveal if the check comes from someone with a record of trying to pass off bad checks. They cannot confirm that a check is written against an account with sufficient funds, but they can help you avoid depositing a check from someone with a suspicious history.

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4 Ways to Tell if a Check Is Fake

Wondering how to know if a check is fake? There may be some telltale signs that a check is bogus. Learn what to look for.

Feel the Check’s Edges

Legitimate checks will have one or more edges that are rough or perforated. If a check feels smooth all the way around, it could be fake.

Inspect the Paper

An authentic check is printed on thick, matte paper, not flimsy stock. Thin paper can indicate a fake check.

Double-check the Check Number

Check numbers appear in two places on legit checks: both the upper right-hand corner and on what’s known as the MICR, or the magnetic ink character recognition line at the bottom.

If the numbers don’t appear in both places and match, you could be holding a bogus check.

Zero in on the MICR Line

As mentioned above, the MICR line contains important information. If the printing there looks raised or shiny, the check could be fake. You could also run a damp finger over the printing. If it smears, sorry: The check is likely fake.

Verify the Bank Address

Checks should have the bank address printed right on it. You can compare this to the official bank address and make sure they match up. Also, a PO box as the bank address can be a red flag that the check is not authentic.

💡 Quick Tip: While checks can get lost in the mail – or even stolen, there is no chance of that happening with a direct deposit. Also, if it’s your paycheck, you won’t have to worry about your or your employer’s info ending up in the wrong hands.

Verifying Funds on a Check

As you work to verify a check, it’s important to remember one thing: When you verify funds, that is not a guarantee that the money will be available when you go to cash the check. The funds may be available at that moment, but you cannot put a hold on the cash nor reserve it. When you actually deposit the check, it could bounce.

Unless the check is an authentic certified check or cashier’s check, there is still the possibility that it might not clear.

Recommended: How to Write a Check to Yourself

4 Check Scams to Look Out For

Although criminals are coming up with new bank fraud ploys all the time, there are a few current common scams to be aware of.

1. Get Rich Quick Scams

In this scam, the scammer contacts a check recipient and says that they won the lottery or are entitled to an inheritance, usually from another country. The scammer says they will send a cashier’s check with the proceeds, but the recipient must pay the fees and taxes. So, they are instructed to deposit the funds and wire money to the scammer for taxes and fees.

2. Online Auction Scams

Some scammers may visit an online auction site or classified listing site and bid on an item; pay in advance for a service; or rent an apartment. The scammer will then send a cashier’s check, usually for more than the price agreed upon. Once you bring this to their attention, they will request the recipient to deposit the check and then send the extra funds back to them before you find out the check was fake.

3. Secret Shopper Scams

With secret shopper scams, scammers pretend to have a job opportunity that allows employees to work from home. The scammer may send a check as a starting bonus and request the employee pay the activation fee. The hope is that the scammer receives the funds from the activation fee before the fake check bounces.

Another way secret shopper scammers take advantage of people is by hiring someone and stating their first assignment is to review retailers that sell gift cards. In this case, the shopper may get a check with instructions to deposit it into their account and then wire the funds to a third party. Unfortunately, once the funds are wired to someone else, the third party vanishes.

4. Personal Assistant Scams

Scammers sometimes try to hire personal assistants online. Once the scammer hires someone, the scammer may send a check and tell the new employer to use the money to purchase gift cards, supplies, or equipment for the client. After the scammer receives the gift card PIN, they can use the funds right away. This will leave the personal assistant without the money when the bank determines the check is counterfeit.

Taking Action If You’re Scammed

If you have wired funds to a scammer, reach out to the company transferring the money as soon as possible, reporting the fraud, and filing a complaint.

Two commonly used money transfer companies are Western Union™ and MoneyGram®, and both have departments dedicated to fraud awareness. If you think you may have been scammed, you can report suspected fraud to the money issuer by phone.

Western Union Fraud Hotline at 1-800-448-1492.

MoneyGram Customer Care Center at 1-800-926-9400.

Both companies also have online forms that can be used to report suspected fraud. You can request a transfer reversal and, while it’s unlikely they will do this, it’s essential to ask at least.

If you used a money order to pay the scammer, reach out to the money order issuing company. Ask if you can request a stop payment or if they can track the money order and stop the delivery of the money.

If you sent the money order by US mail, try reaching out to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service® or another service carrier you used.

In the event, the scammer requested gift cards, contact the gift card issuing company immediately and explain that the company’s gift cards were used in a scam. If you contact them quickly, they might be able to refund the money. Remember, gift cards are not a form of payment, they are a gift. So, it’s a red flag if someone is trying to pay you using gift cards.

Recommended: Ordering Checks – A Complete Guide

The Takeaway

While you can’t prevent fraudsters from attempting to steal your money, you can take steps to keep your money safe by using a secure bank account.

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How can you verify if a check is valid?

There are several ways to verify if a check is valid, including confirming the bank information, checking the routing number, and inspecting the paper and ink.

Can you verify a check online?

There are ways to validate a check online in certain situations. For businesses that receive a significant number of electronic checks, or e-checks, online verification can be a tool that helps reduce the risk of depositing checks that will bounce.

What is a check verification system?

A check verification system is typically a business that verifies a bank account status in real time to determine if a check is drawn on a valid account. There are also systems consumers can use to verify a check, such as confirming the ABA number and inspecting the ink and the paper.

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