One of the most trying positions in our business, is that of signature
expert--the man who has to examine daily every draft that comes in
through the clearing house and vouch for its genuineness. Our bank,
one of the largest in London, employs six clerks who do nothing all
day long but examine checks, and when I tell you that it is no
uncommon thing for 10,000 drafts to come in during a single day you
will understand that the job is not altogether the sinecure it is
popularly supposed to be.
These clerks have not only to scrutinize the signatures both of drawer
and drawee, but also examine the "filling-in," the latter being just
as important, perhaps more so from a monetary point of view, as the
signatures. As a matter of fact, the commonest forgery with which we
have to deal is the "raising" of checks, and a forger of this nature
generally chooses a check bearing a genuine signature but having very
For instance, he knows that it would not be difficult to raise a check
from L3 to L3000, for all he has to do is to erase the word "pounds,"
insert the word "thousand," and then add the erased word again. I have
seen plenty of this kind of work during the time I have been examining
One of the most impudent pieces of forgery, however, that I ever came
across was a check raised from L5 to L500. The forger had evidently
relied on colossal impudence carrying him through, for he had simply
added a couple of ciphers and then between the words "five" and
"pounds" had placed an omission mark and written the word "hundred"
above, adding the initials of the drawer of the check just to give the
thing a look of careless genuineness.
It was so astounding a piece of cool audacity that we had bets on the
check, two of my assistants declaring it to be O.K., while the other
three and myself declared it to be a forgery. Further inquiries, of
course, proved that the opinion of the majority was the correct one.
It is marvelous what a vast number of signatures some paying tellers
will carry in their mind's eye, as it were, and thus be able to pass
checks by the thousand without once having to refer to the signature
books. We had a paying teller here a few years ago who was little less
than a wonder. He knew perfectly the signatures of at least 5000
customers, and could detect the alteration of a stroke in any one of
them in an instant.
More remarkable still was the fact that he recognized with equal
facility the signatures of those customers whose checks only came in
once or twice a year. But he made an art of his work, and I afterward
discovered that most of his evenings were spent in studying and
learning the signatures of the customers, for he was a wonderful hand
at copying writing, and whenever a new signature would come in, one
with which he was not acquainted, he would at once facsimile it in his
pocket-book, and by the next morning would be able to recognize it
Signature clerks are not, as a rule, supposed to make copies of
customers' autographs, but many of them do, and some men are clever
enough at the work to even deceive themselves.
Of course, it is understood that when the signature clerks are not
examining checks they are studying the autograph books in order to
familiarize themselves with the calligraphy of every customer. Each
check, you must understand, passes through the hands of each clerk in
turn, so that if one should pass a forgery or a "raised" draft it is
very unlikely that the entire staff would do so. All these checks, of
course, come through the clearing house, and if we should pass a
forged draft and not find out our mistake before three o 'clock in the
afternoon our bank would be held responsible. One of the commonest
dodges adopted by the modern check-forger is to get a customer of some
small country bank to introduce him to that institution as a likely
depositor. On the recommendation of the friend (who is probably quite
unaware that the acquaintance he made some few months ago is a
"wrong'un") there is no difficulty in accepting their new client's
check for L2000, and the following day, when the same customer calls
and withdraws L100 to L500, as the case may be, he is politely handed
the cash, and then, of course, loses no time in skipping the town.
After the bogus customer's check has passed through the clearing house
it is returned to the bank on which it has been drawn and the fraud is
at once discovered.
Another part of a signature clerk's duties is to see that no checks
are post-dated, as of course no drafts must be paid until they fall
due. On occasions a careless man will post-date a check, but as a rule
the mistake is purposely made. This spotting of post-dated checks,
however, is the easiest part of a signature clerk's work, and it is
very seldom that a check so dated escapes him. Then, again, we are
often notified that payment on certain checks has been stopped, and
the clerks have to be on the lookout for these, and it must be a very
careless staff indeed that lets them slip by. We are held responsible
for all checks passed after we have received notice to stop payment.
But it is very seldom now, owing to the cleverness of the experts,
that any forged checks, "raised" checks, post-dated checks, or stopped
checks pass the vigilant eyes of our staff without being detected, but
when one does--well, although the signature clerks are not held
monetarily responsible for the loss, it means a bad mark against them
in the future, and they feel its effects next time promotions or
"rises" are being handed out.
Altogether, though the work is interesting, and even fascinating in a
way, the responsibilities are so great that the effect on the nerves
is often very trying at times. One thing we are particular about, and
that is to take no chances. If we have the slightest doubt about the
genuineness of a check we at once communicate, either by telegraph,
special messenger, or telephone, with the supposed drawer of the
check, and in this way turn doubt into certainty. During the last
three years not a single wrong check has passed our vigilant optics,
and, though I say it who should not, I do not believe there is a
cleverer set of experts any where than those who compose my staff.