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Check fraud on the rise, study says

Banks still are losing ground in their ongoing battle against check fraud.

A recent survey by the American Bankers Association showed that check-fraud losses increased to $679-million in 1999, up 32 percent from 1997, the last time the biennial study of nearly 600 banks was done.

Forgery was listed as the most common type of check fraud, followed by bounced checks that customers never cover. Counterfeit checks ranked third. Meanwhile, technology _ which often helps banks catch culprits _ also makes producing counterfeit checks and signatures easier than ever before.

Still, the survey released last week had an upside: The amount of money that banks could have lost because of check fraud _ more than $2.2-billion in 1999 _ fell far short of the actual losses.

"Banks are doing a much better job at catching check fraud and stopping it from taking place," said John Hall, a spokesman for the bankers association. "But it also means that there are more people out there challenging the integrity of the system."