What happens if I write a check with disappearing ink?
March 25, 2005 9:45 AM   Subscribe

If I go to a store, and 'inadvertently' write out a check, useing a pen that has disappearing ink, what will happen when the check can't be processed? I know that with the new 'Check 21' program, the actual checks aren't sent to my bank, but if the ink disappears before the check gets scanned by the stores' bank, what happens?
posted by whoda to Shopping (18 answers total)
I believe that the current process is for the amount of the check to be input into the register, and the check numbers (bank account and routing number at the bottom of the check) gets scanned by one of those check readers. That's probably how the debiting transaction takes place. Not sure if what is written on the check ever really matters...
posted by noahv at 9:51 AM on March 25, 2005

I once inadvertantly deposited a check made out to my landlord (by my roommate) in my bank's atm. It cleared. I asked the bank about it, they said "Hm, that shouldn't be. It will surely correct itself during the end of week audit." (or some such thing). Never happened. I ended up just writing a check from my own account to cover both my part and my roommate's part of the rent. Later, I deposted a check in the atm, but forgot to endorse it. I immediately realized what I'd done and went to the teller. "Don't worry about it," he told me, "It will clear anyway."

And then there's this...
posted by idontlikewords at 10:07 AM on March 25, 2005

At one grocery store near me now they actually return the check to you--blank, unsigned--after scanning it in at the register.
posted by handful of rain at 10:09 AM on March 25, 2005

not sure, but i would guess check signatures, like credit card signatures, only come into play when there is a disagreement over whether or not a transaction is valid. even after the ink disappears, there will still be pressure marks on the check from where the pen was pressed. so you should make sure you 'inadvertently' scratch across the signature area of the check in advance with an empty pen or something, and then 'inadvertently' do this in a store without video cameras. it might also be a good idea to 'inadvertently' do it with someone else's check, especially now that you've asked this with an identity that can be traced back to you.
posted by scottreynen at 10:13 AM on March 25, 2005

If there were a dispute, odds are that the disappearing ink would be discovered, and you'd have a whole lot of explaining to do to a judge.
posted by mkultra at 10:19 AM on March 25, 2005

I work in fraud prevention at a financial institution, so I find this kind of stuff really interesting...

If the merchant's bank accepted the check while the writing was still present, but it disappeared before the check was processed, I would imagine the bank would reverse the deposit, since it has suddenly become a non-negotiabe item and would not be honored when presented for payment at your bank.

So, the merchant would be stuck with a loss and would attempt to collect the funds by other means. Since they have your account number and bank's routing number from your check, their accounting department could probably create a "substitute check" of some kind to clear your account, or originate an ACH transfer to electronically claim their money, assuming they still have a record of the purchase amount. Or, they would just pass it on to a collection agency, along with all their other bad checks. You'd probably get a visit from the police either way, though.
posted by Hlewagast at 11:27 AM on March 25, 2005

I once forgot to sign a check and didn't notice until I received my statement in the mail. The bank cleared it. I was never sure if it cleared because they didn't notice or care or because they could check and see that I have a history of regular payments to this place.
posted by Jim Jones at 12:06 PM on March 25, 2005

I heard somebody on the radio once who claimed to work at a place where checks to a utility company were processed. She said if anything was missing (date, signature, etc) they just "filled it in." I was mildly surprised, but it wore off.
posted by Rash at 1:53 PM on March 25, 2005

Reasonable commercial standards do not require sight-verification of each and every check that passes through a bank. Therefore, so long as you don't dispute it, the unsigned check will remain cleared. Basically, there are so many bits of paper in the system that no one bank can spend its time looking at each and every item. That's why customers have to exercise ordinary care in reviewing their statements and checks.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:03 PM on March 25, 2005

A friend of mine mailed his phone bill to the electric company and vice-versa. Both checks cleared.
posted by user92371 at 2:13 PM on March 25, 2005

What happens:

The first time, you can probably get away with it, claiming "mistake," provided you immediately write a new check in real ink.

If you try to get away with it, you will go on that store's "no checks" list, and a copy of the check, showing your name, will be pasted up in public view next to all checkout points.

The second time you try, a fraud report will go to the credit reporting agencies, so you can't get credit or a new credit card.

Third time, a criminal prosecution for fraud is possible. Remember that the disappearing ink doesn't go away. It only fades. It's easy to bring back, to prove what a crook you are.
posted by KRS at 2:16 PM on March 25, 2005

Medieval Maven has it exactly right.

KRS: The second time you try, a fraud report will go to the credit reporting agencies, so you can't get credit or a new credit card.

This I'm not so sure about. Something would probably show up on a credit report if a merchant sent you to a collection agency, but I've never heard of anything quite like what you're referring to. However, if your bank got wind of what you were up to, your account could be shut down for suspected fraud and your name reported to a company like ChexSystems, which would make it very hard for you to open a new account elsewhere.
posted by Hlewagast at 2:49 PM on March 25, 2005

I immediately realized what I'd done and went to the teller. "Don't worry about it," he told me, "It will clear anyway."

I deposit all my cheques at ATMs and I never ever endorse them. If I endorsed it and I lost it, anybody could come along and cash it. Though it sounds like anyone could come along and cash it anyway.
posted by duck at 7:12 PM on March 25, 2005

If I endorsed it and I lost it, anybody could come along and cash it.

That's why I write "For deposit only. Acct. ######" above my signature when I endorse it. I don't know if it will really help, but it can't hurt. I also often endorse checks while standing at the ATM. Hard to lose it in the 3 inches from where I sign to the little slot. :)
posted by belladonna at 7:48 PM on March 25, 2005

On the general check topic: I have had checks returned to me by my bank for not being endorsed, but I did have something else rather interesting happen. When I was aboutg 16 I worked for Meijer and they gave my check to someone else, who had a similar name. I'm pretty sure he was able to cash it from how reluctant they were to print another check. So endorse your checks, but don't worry too much about whether it actually matches, I guess.
posted by dagnyscott at 8:10 PM on March 25, 2005

I listened to a short speech by a teller in an economics class I took in 1989. They had a problem with checks that had presumably been dipped in weak acid which then crumbled away to nothing.
posted by craniac at 10:43 PM on March 25, 2005

Ok so not that I have any experience with committing fraud, but: I would imagine a cardinal rule of doing so is to NOT attach your name to the activity in any way, shape, or form. Much less the freaking routing numbers to your bank account. This is a bad idea on so very many levels.
posted by kavasa at 3:28 AM on March 26, 2005


Just because the ink disappeared to your eyes doesn't mean it's really gone.

If your pen is a ballpoint or fountain, examination of the impressions on the check's surface will plainly reveal any information written that has since faded.

Additionally, all inks will leave chemical traces. There are different techniques of revealing them, including heating, infrared imaging, backlighting and chemical bathing.

The point is, if any agency with a crime lab is attracted to your situation, you're boned. Especially if you're dumb enough to use your own check.

Even using your own check isn't necessary to get caught, though, as nearly everyone has cameras nowadays.

And besides, check fraud is soooo 1985.
posted by SlyBevel at 1:42 PM on March 28, 2005

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