Fake checks – Monterey Herald

Question: Last month, I opened my bank statement and realized that my account had dropped by about $20,000. I discovered about 15 cleared checks that I did not write. Luckily, my bank reversed the fraudulent charge and reinstated me, and opened a new checking account for me. What can I do to prevent this from happening again?

To respond: It happened to me too! Here is a column I wrote detailing my experience:

I recently returned from vacation to the horror of numerous “insufficient funds” notices from my bank waiting for me in my post office box. As an accountant (and yes, I’ve been called “anal retentive”), I’m very observant of my checkbook balance and knew I had several thousand dollars in my business account before I went on vacation.

Fortunately, my bank statement from the previous month was also in the mail. I immediately opened the statement to find a personal sized pink check (I use business sized checks and a macho accountant never uses pink checks) made payable to a jewelry store in Columbus, Ohio for around $2,500. The check bore the address and phone number of one of my old offices that I left more than eight years ago, and naturally my signature was a poor forgery.

Hysterically, I called the bank and found that two more forged checks had cleared the bank after the date of the bank statement. Strategically, these two checks were drawn in amounts to clear my account balance. Since my bank covered the legitimate checks I wrote, I was spared the embarrassment of having to explain any bad checks.

My first day back from vacation was spent documenting the theft and opening a new bank account. The bank employees immediately credited me with fakes and provided me with the psychological counseling I needed. I am extremely grateful for their professionalism.

How could this happen to me? I’m so careful. I tear up everything, even used tissues. Maybe someone had a copy of an old check I wrote or I carelessly threw all the files in the trash without realizing what was in them. These days, most office supply companies sell blank checks and the necessary ink cartridges for anyone to print their own checks (or someone else’s checks!) using computer software for writing checks. Scary, isn’t it?

I share my experience with my readership as a warning. Of course, this can happen to anyone. To avoid suffering a similar fate, I recommend the following steps both to make it harder for criminals to create your checks and to limit potential losses:

1. Destroy canceled or unused bank statements and checks before throwing them in the trash.

2. Open your bank statements as soon as they are received and quickly reconcile your accounts.

3. If possible, use online internet banking to regularly review your accounts for any unusual transactions.

4. Contact your bank immediately if you suspect unusual activity.

5. If you become a victim of this type of theft, I also recommend that you order your own credit reports. If the criminal was able to acquire more of your personal information, you may also be a victim of identity theft, allowing a criminal to obtain credit cards and loans in your name.

Please note that each time you give someone a check, you are also giving them the information they need to clone your checks. Therefore, you must be vigilant in examining your bank accounts.

Barry Dolowich is a CPA and owner of a full-service accounting and tax firm with offices in Monterey. He can be reached at 831-372-7200. Please direct questions to Barry at PO Box 710 Monterey, CA 93942-0710 or email: [email protected]