Altered Checks: How They Work and Prevention Tips


An altered check is a deceptive form of check fraud that involves malicious changes, typically affecting the payee’s name, the check’s amount, or the date. This article explores the concept of altered checks, how they work, legal considerations, and preventive measures to protect against this financial fraud.

Understanding altered checks

An altered check, as the name suggests, is a check or negotiable instrument that has been maliciously modified to perpetrate fraud. This type of check fraud typically involves significant alterations to the check, often targeting the name of the payee, the check’s monetary amount, or its issuance date.

How altered checks work

An altered check is one of the most common types of check fraud, alongside forgeries, counterfeit checks, and remote checks. Altered checks are specifically addressed in the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) Section 3-407. According to the UCC, “alteration” includes any unauthorized change to the instrument that modifies the obligation of a party or the unauthorized addition of words, numbers, or other changes to an incomplete instrument.

Under the UCC, liability for an altered check can be attributed to various parties involved, including the customer issuing the check, the bank on which the check is drawn, and the bank presenting the check. The distribution of liability depends on factors like evident negligence. For instance, if a customer fails to report a loss within a specific timeframe, they might be barred from recovery, regardless of any negligence by the drawee bank.

Special considerations

To protect against altered checks, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) provides valuable suggestions:

1. Avoid blank spaces: Customers should avoid leaving large blank spaces in the number or amount lines when writing checks.

2. Prompt reporting: If checks are stolen, customers should report the theft to the drawee or payer financial institution.

Financial institutions play a crucial role in preventing altered checks. They should carefully review checks for consistent handwriting, ensuring there are no visible signs of erasure or alteration. If a bank suspects that a check has been altered, it has the right to refuse to honor it.

Examples of altered checks

Altered checks often involve changes made to the payee’s name or the check’s monetary amount. For instance, an altered check might have the dollar amount changed from $100 to $1,000, which is relatively straightforward compared to altering names.

Pros and cons

Weigh the risks and benefits

Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.

  • Pay back less than what you owe
  • Become debt-free in less time
  • Avoid bankruptcy
  • Negative impact on credit score
  • Additional fee accrual
  • Remains on your credit history for 7 years

Preventing altered checks

Preventing altered checks is essential to safeguard your financial security. To do so effectively, consider the following steps:

1. Use secure checks

Invest in high-quality checks with security features that make them more difficult to alter.

2. Monitor your bank statements

Frequently review your bank statements and report any suspicious transactions promptly. The sooner you report a problem, the more likely it is to be resolved.

3. Educate yourself

Stay informed about the latest fraud tactics and be cautious when sharing personal or financial information.

Prevalence of altered checks

Altered checks are more common than one might think. They occur in various scenarios, and understanding these situations can help you remain vigilant. Some examples include:

1. Personal checks

Individuals are vulnerable to altered checks when they write personal checks for various purposes, such as paying rent or utility bills. A malicious party might intercept these checks and make unauthorized changes, ultimately affecting your financial well-being.

2. Business checks

Businesses frequently issue checks for payments to suppliers, employees, and other entities. Altered business checks can lead to significant financial losses, making it vital for companies to implement strict check security measures.

Legal implications

In the event of an altered check, understanding the legal consequences is essential. Here are some subheadings that shed light on this aspect:

1. Liability of the drawee bank

The drawee bank, which is responsible for paying the check, may bear the liability for an altered check under specific circumstances. For instance, if the bank fails to exercise due diligence in verifying the check’s authenticity, it may become legally liable.

2. Customer reporting obligations

Customers have a legal obligation to report altered checks within a certain timeframe. Failing to report promptly may result in reduced chances of recovering the loss. This reporting period varies but is typically around 30 days.

Methods to detect altered checks

Detecting altered checks is crucial in preventing financial losses. Consider adding these subheadings to your article:

1. Signature verification

One effective method to detect alterations is to compare the signature on the check with the known signature of the account holder. Inconsistencies can be a red flag for potential alterations.

2. Check watermarks

Many checks have security watermarks that are difficult to reproduce. When holding the check up to the light, these watermarks should be visible. If they appear altered or missing, it could indicate tampering.

Real-life consequences

Adding a section on the real-life consequences of altered checks can make the article more relatable and impactful:

1. Personal financial stress

When an individual falls victim to an altered check, the consequences are not just financial. The stress and anxiety resulting from such an incident can have a profound impact on their well-being.

2. Business disruption

For businesses, altered checks can lead to operational disruptions, damaged vendor relationships, and potential legal disputes. This can be both financially and reputationally damaging.


In conclusion, altered checks are a deceptive form of check fraud that can have significant financial consequences. Understanding how they work and taking preventive measures is crucial to protect your financial well-being. By following best practices and promptly reporting any issues, you can reduce the risk of falling victim to this type of fraud.

Frequently asked questions

What are the common alterations made to checks?

Common alterations to checks include changes to the payee’s name, the check’s monetary amount, or the issuance date. These alterations are typically done to perpetrate fraud.

How can I protect myself from altered checks?

To protect yourself from altered checks, consider using high-quality checks with security features, reviewing your bank statements regularly, and promptly reporting any suspicious transactions to your bank.

What legal consequences can I face if I’m a victim of an altered check?

If you’re a victim of an altered check, the legal consequences can vary. Your liability depends on factors such as negligence in reporting the issue and the actions of the drawee bank. Prompt reporting is essential to minimize potential legal repercussions.

Can financial institutions refuse to honor altered checks?

Yes, financial institutions can refuse to honor altered checks. If a bank suspects that a check has been altered, they have the right to refuse payment. This is part of their efforts to prevent fraudulent transactions.

What steps should businesses take to protect against altered business checks?

Businesses can take several steps to protect against altered business checks. These include implementing strict check security measures, regularly reviewing financial records, and educating employees about the risks of altered checks.

What should I do if I suspect an altered check in my financial transactions?

If you suspect an altered check in your financial transactions, you should promptly report it to your bank. The sooner you report a potential issue, the better the chances of resolving it and minimizing financial losses.

Key takeaways

  • An altered check is a deceptive form of check fraud involving changes that can impact the payee’s name, the check’s amount, or the date.
  • Financial institutions can refuse to honor altered checks, and it’s crucial for customers to report any suspicion of alteration promptly.
  • The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) addresses altered checks and allocates liability among the involved parties based on negligence.
View Article Sources
  1. The bank said forged checks were due to my negligence. … –
  2. What Is a Bank Reconciliation Statement, and How Is It … – SuperMoney
  3. Availability of Funds and Collection of Checks – Federal Register