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This Is What a Real Paper Stimulus Check Looks Like

As payments go out, Secret Service reveals security features to deter fraud

En español | The Secret Service has released a sample of the paper stimulus checks that are being issued to millions of Americans beginning this month. The agency aims to deter counterfeiters by showing consumers, retailers and financial institutions what a genuine check looks like, describing the watermark paper and other security features.

More than 80 million of the so-called economic impact payments ordered under the CARES Act already have been delivered, federal officials said Saturday. The first wave of payments went out via direct deposit based on bank account information from tax returns on file at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The next wave of stimulus includes payments by paper check.

With the CARES Act “comes opportunity for criminal activity, like check fraud,” the Secret Service says. It released the sample check in partnership with its former parent organization, the U.S. Treasury Department. The service, begun in 1865 to suppress the counterfeiting of U.S. currency, is now part of the Department of Homeland Security. Today, the service's duties include protecting top government officials and investigating financial fraud and cybercrime.

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Here are six security features on the stimulus checks:

  1. Treasury seal. The new seal will say “Bureau of the Fiscal Service” once check stock showing “Financial Management Service” (FMS) runs out.
  2. Bleeding ink. The Treasury seal, to the right of an image of the Statue of Liberty, has security ink that will run and turn red when moisture is applied to the black ink of the seal.
  3. Microprinting. Microprinted words are so small they appear as just a line to the naked eye. But when magnified, the words become visible. Microprinting cannot be duplicated by a copier and when a check is counterfeited, it will often show up as a solid line or a series of dots. This U.S. Treasury check has one area on the back where “USAUSAUSA” appears repeatedly in such tiny print.
  4. Watermark. All stimulus checks are printed on watermark paper that reads “U.S. TREASURY,” which can be seen from both the front and back of the check when it is held up to a light. The watermark is light and cannot be reproduced by a copier. Any check not having the watermark should be suspected as being counterfeit or copied.
  5. Ultraviolet overprinting. A protective ultraviolet pattern, invisible to the naked eye, consisting of four lines of “FMS” will be bracketed by the FMS seal on the left and the U.S. seal — an eagle — on the right. This pattern usually may be found under the payee information and the dollar amount area. The FMS pattern and seals can be detected under a black light. If the amount box is altered in any way, a space will be created in the ultraviolet area. When exposed to black light, the ink used in the pattern and the seal will glow. This fluorescent quality cannot be photocopied. Beginning in 2013, a new ultraviolet pattern was introduced into the check stock consisting of four lines repeating the words “FISCAL SERVICE.” Also, the seal has been changed to read “Bureau of the Fiscal Service” and may be seen until the prior check stock runs out.
  6. President's name. The checks will feature these words on the lower right side of the Statue of Liberty: “Economic Impact Payment. President Donald J. Trump."

To learn more about the security features on U.S Treasury checks, click here.

The Aim? To Disrupt and Deter Criminals

The Secret Service and the Treasury Department say their personnel are working with law enforcement partners to:

• disrupt and deter criminal activity that could hinder an effective response to the pandemic.

• help vulnerable organizations.

• recover money stolen from Americans.

To report a COVID-19 related scam, people are advised to contact their local law enforcement agency or:

• a Secret Service Field Office. 

• the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration

• the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

• the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF).

• the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

• the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts, review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.

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