Among the casual patrons of the average bank there is a superstition
that in presenting a check at a teller's window the amount of the
check shall be determined by the amount spelled out in the body of the
check, without regard to the figures written at the top or bottom of
Nothing could be farther from the facts as they are accepted at the
bank window. As a matter of fact, when a check made out in this
erroneous way comes to a teller's window he is most likely to refuse
to pay either amount. There is no law, written or unwritten, to
justify the paying of the amount spelled out in the body of the check,
regardless of the group of figures on its face. This figure group is
designed merely to check and justify the written amount, but if there
is a discrepancy between the two amounts there is nothing to indicate
that it is not the written amount that is wrong and the figure group
that is right.
Under such circumstances the chief duty of the teller is to protect
the depositor who has drawn the check on his bank. The person who
presents the check for payment manifestly has been a party to the
mistake in not having read over the check carefully before receiving
it. If the payee is unknown to the teller and if the discrepancy is at
all material, the teller turns the check back with the advice that the
payee look up the drawer and have the error corrected.
In many cases of discrepancy between the two amounts on the face of a
check the sum involved is the fractional part of the dollar at the end
of the chief figures. This comes about through the drawer's concern
over the main figures in the check. He is likely to write the amount
in letters on the center line of the body of the check, affixing the
fractional part of a dollar in the form of 100th parts of that unit.
In writing the checking group in figures at the upper or lower corner
of the slip, his chief concern is with the dollars and in his care he
is likely to overlook the odd cents first entered on the face of the
paper. Or if he attempts to write the figures "74" cents in repetition
it is likely that they may be transposed to "47" cents in the
How to write this check in order that it may not be tampered with and
"raised" is something that has held the attentions and invited the
inventive talents of many people, in and out of business. Even when
the best of the chemical papers are used in the bank check the drawer
of the paper may have not the slightest protection from "raising" at
the hands of an expert. The manner in which the written and figure
amounts on the face of the check are placed makes the material
alteration of the amount easy beyond question.
For instance, the man who writes with a free, flowing, rounded hand
and leaves roomy spaces everywhere between words and figures becomes
an easy mark for a forger. This man is called upon to draw his check
for $4, even. He takes his check book and in the dollar line writes
the word "four" in his rounded hand, simply filling the rest of the
lined space with the plain flourish of his pen. Then in the upper
corner of the check he writes the attesting figure $4, with a dash
after it. That makes it a cinch for an expert check raiser to make it
$40 or $400 or $4,000.
Manifestly the only safeguard for such a check as this, even if it be
drawn upon chemical paper, is for the drawer to follow close upon the
written "four" with the blocking "No-100th" dollars, using the same
fraction as closely after the figure "4" in the corner of the check.
To leave no possible room after a final written or figure amount on a
check is the best possible precaution against raising it. For with
many checks the printed warning "Not good if drawn for more than one
hundred dollars," is a worthless precaution. In the above example it
is so, for the reason that raised as it is the amount still is within
the limit. Had the check been drawn in the same style for "six"
dollars, it would have been more easily and profitably raised to
"sixty." In the same general manner a slovenly "two" may be raised to
"twenty," "three" may be "thirty," "five" is made "fifty," "seven"
becomes "seventy," "eight" becomes "eighty," and "nine" is transformed
into "ninety"--all without erasures and without leaving telltale marks
upon a chemical paper.
In this way the average check which is made payable "to bearer" may be
a potential menace in a slow course through a dozen hands. While a
bank may require the holder of a "bearer" check to indorse his name
upon the back, that indorsement means nothing to him. The check is
payable to the bearer and the teller must pay it if it appears all
right and he is certain of the signature at the bottom.
For the average man who may write his checks at a desk, and who may be
willing to observe some system in the writing, perhaps the safest and
cheapest protection for his paper is to repeat in red-ink figures the
amount for which the check is drawn, placing those figures on the
signature line at the bottom in such a manner that the black-ink
signature will be woven through the red-ink group. Virtually there is
no way of getting around this form of duplicated amount. The red
figures show plainly through the signature and cannot be changed
without affecting the form and character of the signature itself. To
affect a signature in this way is to call attention to the fraud
instantly. A man may make a shaky mismove of the pen somewhere in the
body of the check, and if it is not too prominent a teller may take a
chance and pass it; but he will shy at a signature which isn't what it
ought to be--that subtle sixth sense of the old teller prompts him to
it before he knows why, and a paying teller is always vigilant.