How to Verify Funds
Verify Funds Before You Deposit a Check
If you have any doubts about a check, it’s a good idea to verify funds and find out if the check is likely to bounce. Depositing a bad check means you’ll have to pay bank fees – and you'll need to take additional steps to get the money you're owed.
How to Verify Funds
To verify funds, you’ll need to contact the bank that the money is coming from.
- Find the bank name on the face of the check.
- Search for the bank online, and visit the bank’s official site to get a phone number for customer service.
- Tell the customer service rep that you’d like to verify a check.
- Provide the bank account and routing numbers from the bottom of the check (see where to find those numbers).
- Provide the amount of the check.
Use legitimate sources: The check might have the bank’s phone number printed along with the bank’s name and logo. However, it’s best to call a number that you know (through your own research) is legitimate. If the check is fake, con artists are likely to provide a number that goes to a fake “banker,” who will tell you the check is good.
Bank policies create challenges: Some banks make it difficult or impossible to verify funds. They may require you to visit a branch in person or pay a fee, and they might even refuse to verify funds for their customers (due to privacy concerns, for example). At the least, they should eventually tell you if the account exists. From there, you’ll have to decide whether or not to take your chances.
What Do You Know?
After you verify funds, you have more information, but you still can’t be certain that the check is good. At best, you might find out that there are sufficient funds available in the check writer’s account at the time of your phone call (or as of that morning). So what could go wrong?
- The check writer could withdraw funds from the account before you deposit the check.
- You might deposit the check immediately after verifying it, but it can take a day or two for the check to hit the check writer’s account (for example, if you deposit the check at your bank with your mobile device).
- The person who gave you the check might not be the real owner of that checking account (somebody else has plenty of money, but you'll be out of luck once they see that a fraudulent check hit their account).
- Other withdrawals, debits, or account holds could deplete funds from the check writer’s account before your check is presented.
When you verify funds, you don’t get a guarantee that the money will be there for you – you just know that it is available in general. You can’t reserve those funds. Unless the check is an authentic cashier’s check (which is drawn on the bank’s own accounts) or a certified check, there’s always a risk that the check will bounce.
How to Be Sure
The safest way to make sure you get your money is to cash the check in person at the check writer’s bank. You must visit a branch of the check writer’s bank for this to work. If you take it to your bank (which happens to be a different bank), your bank might give you cash immediately. However, the funds have not yet been collected from the other bank. If you go to the bank that the funds are drawn on, the money comes out of that account immediately.
Using your bank? What happens if you deposit (or cash) the check at your bank? It’s safest to wait several weeks before you spend the money – unless you’re confident that the check is good. If the check bounces, you’re responsible for any money you took out of the account, so you’ll have to repay your bank. Your bank's funds availability policy may allow you to walk away with cash, even if the check is no good.
Check Verification Services
If you run a business that accepts checks from customers regularly, contacting banks for every check is cumbersome. Check verification services can help you figure out if you're likely to get paid, but they don't necessarily check a recent account balance. Instead, these services flag accounts and people who have a history of writing bad checks - and that's useful information. Some services even guarantee payment if they fail to alert you to a bad check.
A check verification service is the closest you can get to online verification, and it costs money to use those databases. Unfortunately, there is no simple free tool for consumers to verify checks online – you need to contact the particular bank that the funds are drawn on, and the bank needs to be willing to accommodate your request.
In addition to asking the bank, you can do some basic detective work to see if a check is likely to be a fake.
- Look for a list of security features, which is often printed on the back of the check (and then verify each of those features).
- Look for microprint, which suggests that the check was printed by a legitimate check printer (and not at a con artist’s home).
- Look for behavioral red flags, like somebody asking you to give them cash in exchange for a check.
- If you accept checks from customers, set up rules to reduce the chances of getting ripped off.