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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

nderstand 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

little "filling-in."

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

among 10,000.

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.