By Bluepoint Solutions

Published on CU/CB Insight on January 8, 2015

Every year for the past decade or so, fewer checks are written as consumers switch to cards and, lately, mobile apps. Total losses from check fraud have also dropped. So, thwarting check fraudsters can be crossed off your financial institution’s to-do list in 2016, right?

Not so fast.

According to a white paper just released by Bluepoint Solutions, Cheating With Checks: An Update on the Shifting Check Fraudscape, stemming losses from checks continues to merit serious executive attention.

For one thing, checks are still a leading source of attempted fraud, according to the Federal Reserve. For another thing, the dollar value of each check transaction averages significantly more than the average card transaction. This means that each check poses a relatively larger risk than card transaction, and in fact, the average loss per fraudulent check is actually rising.

It also means that check fraud losses are not falling off nearly as quickly as the drop in volume might imply. Check losses are still near three-quarters of a billion dollars a year, and they affect almost all financial institutions. Are these losses within “tolerable” limits? What about the total cost impact of fraud, which affects shareholders and account holders alike?

Looking ahead, the boom in mobile deposits may make checks once again a more attractive target for counterfeiters, kiters and other cheaters. Virtually all banks and credit unions either offer or plan to offer mobile check deposits, despite the belief that they are riskier.

They have little choice. Account holders, at first mostly the millennial generation, but now all demographic groups, are demanding the convenience of more mobile self-service features. A current study by Celent, for example, shows that about a third of the entire U.S. population across all age groups will use mobile banking to some extent in 2016. A huge amount of this market remains to be tapped, leaving the threat of fraud largely undiscovered.

Fraudsters, who are nothing if not adaptable, may also be attracted to checks as a better alternative to attacking EMV-chip cards, which are being deployed rapidly and are more difficult to abuse.

The good news is that financial institutions are actively pushing back the proportion of successful attempts at check fraud, largely through the implementation of collaborative data bases that help identify potential fraud right at the point of presentment. With the right technology in place, duplicate detection and other validation steps can be applied equally to in-branch and remote deposits, including mobile capture. And moving from an environment with multiple legacy vendors and systems, toward today’s affordable, fully-integrated systems has become one of the most effective prevention loss prevention strategies available.

Checks will be with us for many years yet. And taking into account the explosive growth of mobile banking, to say nothing of the general unpredictability of the financial environment, check fraud could even be on the rise again. Continued vigilance and extended early detection are the keys to a successful future-facing risk mitigation strategy. It’s not time yet to check this off our lists.

The new white paper from Bluepoint Solutions is the third in a series of biennial surveys of check fraud.

  • Updated information from the most recent Federal Reserve payments study, the ABA Deposit Account Fraud Survey Report, the AFP Payments Fraud and Control Survey, and other industry sources.
  • Examination of trends in the changing sources of fraud, total vs. successful attempts, volumes vs. losses.
  • Impact analysis of mobile deposits and other recent developments in the payment realm.

Click here to view the white paper summary and download the full report.

Click here to read this article on CU Insight.