You can get a stop payment placed on a check that the payee hasn't cashed yet. But in almost all cases, you cannot reverse a cleared check you've written after the payee has already cashed it. Your bank can do little unless you prove fraud or identity theft. However, you may be able to reverse a check when you are the payee.
Discovering Cases of Fraud
It is essential that when you suspect you have been the victim of identity theft or forgery, you notify your bank or financial institution immediately. Although rules require banks to have the account holder's signature on file, clearinghouses process checks for which computers read the MICR-encoded routing number on the front. Because computers are not foolproof, you need to monitor your bank statement for possible cases of forgery or fraud yourself, cautions HelpWithMyBank.gov.
In most situations, depending on the bank, you will have 30 days from the checking account statement date to report multiple scam transactions from the same source. You may have up to one year from the statement date to report a single fraudulent occurrence to your bank. You can check your bank account agreement for specifics.
Generally, if you notice someone has cashed a check on your account fraudulently, your bank will investigate and reimburse you for the checks. But, if the bank investigates and has reason to believe you were negligent or that it presented the check in good faith and exercised due diligence, then you could be responsible.
You must alert your bank as soon as you know of transactions you did not make. They may occur when someone steals your checkbook or otherwise obtains copies of your paper checks fraudulently. If you don't, the bank may assume the payer was aware of the transactions and accepted them. Direct deposits are safer because they don't involve paper checks. The same is true when you use a debit card (not a credit card).
Stopping a Check Payment
There may come a time when you decide you no longer want your bank to honor a check you've written. You can contact your bank to have it stop payment on a bad check, but only before the payee has presented the check for payment.
The time it takes a bank to process a check determines funds availability. It takes one to two business days for a bank to process and pay a personal check. A cashier's check, money order, certified check or government-issued checks should clear by the next business day.
By issuing a stop payment order, your bank prevents the payee from cashing the check. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says your bank will likely charge you a stop payment fee for this service. You may still be responsible for remitting payment to the merchant using another method. To stop payment on a check, call your bank's customer service number to talk to a representative or visit a branch to speak with a teller.
Reversing a Check
Sometimes, you can deposit a check from someone, and your bank will release the funds to your account for your use, only to discover that the bank subsequently reversed this action. When this occurs, your account can become overdrawn because the bank will collect the funds from your account balance, leaving you to collect from the issuer of the bounced check. This is known as a check reversal, and when it happens, your bank will probably charge you a returned item fee.
You may begin using the money in the account before you or the bank realizes the deposited check is no good. This can trigger a host of overdraft charges (i.e., fees for insufficient funds when you don't have enough money in the account) or returned item fees. These fees are usually in the $35 range. In this instance, bank customers often have little recourse if the bank exercised due diligence in honoring the check.
Tara Thomas is a Los Angeles-based writer and avid world traveler. Her articles appear in various online publications, including Sapling, PocketSense, Zacks, Livestrong, Modern Mom and SF Gate. Thomas has a Bachelor of Science in marine biology from California State University, Long Beach and spent 10 years as a mortgage consultant.