GREATEST DANGER TO BANKS
Raising checks has become the greatest danger to the banks. There is
no comparison between raising checks with a genuine signature and
forging the signature itself, so far as ease of execution is
concerned. After many years of arduous work and after great
expenditures of money the banks have to admit sorrowfully that if a
man wants to raise a check he can do it; and the detection, while, of
e when the paid check returns to the depositor, is
not immediate enough to prevent the swindler from getting away with
That is why the most implacable enemy of the men who dare raise or
falsify a check is the American Bankers' Association. This great
concern in reality is a protective association, and it relentlessly
hunts down all forgers first, last, and all the time. It never lets
up, absolutely never, no matter time, money, or trouble. It bitterly
pursues defaulters for the sake of justice, but it has still another
object in its deadly trailing of forgers and check tampereus. That is
because the whole banking structure hangs on signed paper. When it can
be altered with impunity, away goes the financial system of to-day.
Hence the unrelenting hunting-down of forgers who trifle with men's
names. On the books of more than one large detective agency of the
country are cases more than ten years old. The forgers never have been
found, but the hunt still goes on. Reports of the chase come in
regularly and the books will not be closed until the hunt stops at
prison doors or beside a grave.
Yet with all this remorseless hunting, check-raising flourishes so
well all over the United States that the banks fear to give even a
hint as to the sums of which they or their depositors are robbed each
year. The magnitude of the amount would frighten too many persons.
For a time it was thought that the use of chemically prepared paper
would prove a safeguard, because any erasure or alteration would show
immediately. The chemicals used in its composition would make the ink
run if acids were used to change the figures. But among the
check-raisers there were chemists just as clever as the chemists who
devised the prepared paper.
Then paper with watermarks woven through it was used. But it, too,
became an easy mark for the chemists who had gone wrong.
Finally, and until recently, the banking world thought that it had
struck the absolute safeguard by using a machine to stamp on the check
the exact amount for which it was drawn, the machine perforating the
paper as it stamped it. Certainly it does seem that when the paper is
cut right out of the check, leaving nothing but holes, no change is
humanly possible. But the completeness of this supposed safeguard has
offered a tempting field for the check-raiser.
A special detective in the employ of the American Bankers'
Association, who has spent half the years of his mature life in
running down forgers and check-raisers, said that it was "too easy" to
raise checks, and that a good many more men than try it now would do
it were it not for the well-known relentlessness of the association in
running down offenders against any single one of its constituent
"Write me a check for any sum you want," said the sleuth, "and I'll
A check for $200 was written and passed over to him. In less than two
minutes, without an erasure of any kind, the check called for $500,
and the work was done so well even in that short time that the writer
would have been tempted to believe that he had made an error and
really drawn the check for that amount had he not been sure to the
"That kind of raising is easy," said the expert. "You see it demands
no interlining or extending of words. The check-raiser simply knows
how well certain characters lend themselves to changes that cannot be
detected. The capital _T_ in almost every man's handwriting can be
changed to a capital _F_ without any trouble by even an unskilled
A check for $2,000 was raised to $50,000 almost in the wink of an eye.
"This is the easy and safer part of the business," said he. "But when
a check is to be raised from a sum like $10 to, say, $10,000, and the
drawer has written it so that there is no room between the word 'ten'
and 'dollars,' chemicals must be used. There is always more danger of
detection in that. In the mere alteration of a check there is little.
Look here. I'll change your checks as fast as you can write them, and
I bet a lot of my alterations will pass muster."
A pad was hauled out and the writer filled the sheets out with
carefully written amounts. The expert was as good as his word. He
altered them almost as fast as they were written. Some, to be sure,
were crude and would have betrayed the fact of alteration to the eye
of any careful banker. But many were almost perfect, and all were
wonderfully deceptive and showed what could be done by a crook who had
plenty of time.
"But how about the perforations?" he was asked. "How could a crook
"Nothing easier," was the reply. "The fact that checks stamped with
the amount in perforated characters are considered safe aids the
swindler. Really, to beat the perforations is so easy that it will
make you smile. All the outfit that is needed is a common little punch
with assorted small cutting tubes and a bottle of an invisible glue
that every crook can make or that he can buy in certain places that
every crook knows. Now, here is a check stamped in perforated
characters $300$. I take my little punch and fit into it a cutter that
will punch holes of the same size as the holes in the perforations.
"Now I punch out of the edge of the check a few tiny disks. I moisten
the tip of a needle and press them carefully into the holes that make
the upper part of the figure 3. See, even in my haste and without
glue, they fill the perforations completely and I can shake and pull
the check without disturbing them."
It was true. The little plugs fitted perfectly, and even with the
knowledge that they were there it was almost impossible to see where
they had been inserted.
"Now," continued the expert, "I merely take my punch and carefully
punch enough holes to the right of the upper part of the figure 3 to
make it a 5. And there you are. If I wanted to pass this check through
the bank I would only have to complete the job by smearing a drop of
the invisible glue over the back where I have plugged the original
holes. This glue is wonderfully tenacious and will actually hold the
edges of paper together. It needs only the smallest surface in order
to get hold. After it is on not even the microscope could detect it
readily. And no amount of pulling or shaking of the check will disturb
"You may suppose that a check that is stamped this way, for
instance--$600$--would be hard to change into one of four figures. But
it is almost equally easy. The crook simply punches out enough disks
from the edge to fill up the last dollar mark completely, and after he
has plugged it and the glue is dry he punches a cipher into the place
and then punches a dollar mark after it. Of course, after punching the
little disks out of the edge of the check it is necessary to trim that
part of the paper, but that is done readily, for checks always have
"The check-raiser does not depend on the fact that the scrutiny of
checks in a large bank is bound to be hasty, but he knows that he need
not fear if his work is at all well done, for the paying teller simply
cannot spend much time in examining the many checks that are passed
"One New York City bank sends through the clearing-house daily an
average of 3,100 checks, and as there are about sixty-five such banks
in the clearinghouse the total number of checks handled in the few
hours of business in a day is something enormous.
"It is this haste--which, by the way, is absolutely necessary in order
to keep the books posted to date--that is responsible for the passing
of one of the most peculiar checks that ever came under the notice of
the detectives of America. In this case the check was neither
falsified nor was the signature forged, but it was bogus just the
"It was a check made up of the parts of two checks, and all the
implements necessary for falsification were a pair of scissors and
that invisible glue. The clever swindler had got hold of two genuine
checks from the same bank. One was for $1,000 and the other for $70.
Placing these two checks together, one on top of the other, he cut
them through neatly with the scissors. Then he pasted that portion
bearing the word 'seventy' on the one check to that part bearing the
word 'thousand' on the other. So the composite check read to pay to
the holder 'seventy thousand' dollars. As the cutting was made through
both checks in exactly the same place, the edges fitted perfectly.
They were glued together and the check readily passed the bank
cashier. The man was caught and made restitution without publicity,
but the case gave bankers a shock. Other somewhat similar cases are
known, but none involving such a large amount.
"A famous case was the celebrated Seaver fraud. He bought a draft for
$12 from the Bank of Woodland (Cal.), and, although it was written on
chemical 'safety' paper and perforated in two places with a check
punch, he raised it to $12,000, and it was passed successfully and
"But however successful they may be for a time, it is the fatal hoodoo
of this 'most gentlemanly' way of making a living without earning it
that a forgery is always discovered and the forger generally caught.
That is because the forged check remains in existence and must be paid
by some one, and sooner or later there will be an outcry. The best the
raiser can hope for is to escape before the crime is discovered.
"Once the false check is passed and he has the money, his first idea
is as to where he shall hide. Another fatality attaching to his
peculiar business is that the same place that he thinks of flying to
is the place that suggests itself to the mind of the thief-chaser. In
other words, knowing their man, the man-hunters can guess well where
to find him.
"If a forger wants to bury himself, he thinks of South America,
because it is easy to get there, and apparently out of the world.
Then, of South America, he probably only thinks of Venezuela, or
closer home--of Guatemala or Panama. So the South American hunt is
simplicity itself, as there are not so many large ports that strange
Americans can pass through unnoticed.
"If a forger wants to continue in his crooked business he thinks of
London, Paris, Berlin, and maybe Vienna. We guess at his calibre and
whether he wants more money, and know where he probably will go to get
it, for the professional crook has an international acquaintance, and
he only goes among friends. So we follow him.
"If a forger is an adventurous spirit and committed the crime on
impulse, and we could learn absolutely nothing more about him, we
would look in that Mecca of adventurers, South Africa, for him. In
fact, our first business is to learn what kind of a man he is, then
shut our eyes and guess which one of a few places he will fly to. The
guess often is so good that our men await him when the steamer lands
there. If not, we don't forget the sailing vessels."