You probably already know how to write a check (if not, see our visual example of How to Write a Check). The question is: do you know how to write a check safely? By tapping into your checking account, scammers can wreak havoc with your finances. If you know how to write a check using some of the techniques below, you’ll improve your chances against scammers.
Use ALL CAPS
When you write dollar amounts (and even the recipient’s name) you should use capital letters. Caps are harder to alter than lowercase letters.
Write a Check That Can’t Grow
When you’re filling in the dollar amount, make sure you print the value in a way that scammers can’t add numbers to it. Do this by starting at the far left edge of the space, and draw a line after the last digit. For example, if your check is for $123, put the “1” as far to the left as possible. Then, draw a line from the right side of the “3” to the end of the space.
If you leave space for the scammers, they can add digits. Your check might end up being for $1123 or $1230 if you’re not careful.
Demand Carbon Copies
Researching your past payments is a lot easier if you use carbon copies. I know that sounds old-fashioned these days, but it’s true. Some of the free checking accounts out there don’t offer carbon copies. I think it’s worth it to shop around and find a bank that has free checking AND carbon copies.
Consistency in Your Signature
Each time you sign a check (or any document for that matter), use the same signature. By using a consistent signature, your bank will have an easier time identifying fraudulent checks. If they research your file and find that you sign differently every time, they might let a few suspicious checks slip through before you notice.
Don’t Sign Too Early
Speaking of signatures, please don’t sign blank checks. This is fairly obvious, but you’d be surprised how often it happens. Sometimes we don’t know the name and/or amount for the check so we sign and carry the check around. It’s much safer just to carry a pen.
If you want cash, don’t make the check payable to “Cash”. If this check gets lost, anybody can cash the check. Instead, make the check payable to yourself or the institution that is cashing your check. This is just an easy safeguard that can help fight crime.
Make it Permanent
When you write a check, use ink. If you write a check in pencil, somebody can erase and/or change what you’ve written. Think of all the creative things a scammer can do with a blank check!
Make it Automatic
One way to reduce the odds of scammers getting at your checking account is to use an online bill pay service (find out how online bill pay works). The money goes directly from your account to the payee. It may pass through the mail, but the process is fairly controlled. You don’t need as many blank checks lying around, and you can see your history online.