Toner, Laser Printers and Check Fraud | SAFEChecks | Articles

Toner, Laser Printers and Check Fraud

Toner is not ink. It is black powder mixed with tiny bits of plastic. The heat from the printer melts the plastic, which then mixes with the powder, and prints onto the paper. Some people think of it as ink (especially those who grew up with typewriters), but it is not. It is toner.

MICR toner is special toner that has magnetic qualities and must be used by companies that are printing their own MICR line (the bank numbers printed at the bottom of the check) instead of buying checks that have the MICR line printed by a check manufacturer. The magnetic toner is what enables banks’ machines to “read” the numbers, and apply the transaction to the proper account. Either the check manufacturer applies the MICR toner or the company issuing the checks applies it. MICR toner is significantly more expensive than regular toner.

Because toner, either regular or MICR, is really plastic, not ink, it can often be lifted from the face of a regular check with office tape, or scraped off with a razor blade. Toner anchorage is a thin, invisible, chemical coating applied at the mill to the front of paper that will be used to make laser checks. (In contrast, the paper used for checks that won’t be printed on a laser printer, such as continuous feed checks, voucher checks, etc., does not have toner anchorage applied to it).

When a check goes through a laser printer, the heat from the printer gels the toner anchorage while melting the toner, melding the two together onto the check. It binds or “anchors” the toner to the paper (hence the name “toner anchorage”). This helps reduce the risk of the toner being peeled or scraped off, and the check being altered. Using or not using MICR toner makes no difference to the toner anchorage.

THERE IS A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TONER AND TONER ANCHORAGE: If you use “cheap” toner, whether it is regular or MICR, it will not bind properly with the toner anchorage, and the protection that toner anchorage offers will be diluted, at best. The “formula” of cheap toner is different than the “formula” of high quality toner, and it doesn’t interact with the anchorage and bind to the page as well. Whenever we (SAFEChecks) have had a case of an altered check (which is very rare), we have it tested. Thus far, in every instance the problem has been traced back to the fact that the company issuing the checks was using cheap toner!

As they say, you get what you pay for…

Printers should be set at the highest density possible when printing checks. This will also make it more difficult for a criminal to remove the toner. If a company prints its own MICR line, a high density setting will help the MICR line be read by the bank. The bank should notify you if the numbers are not reading properly. For a cost saving tip on toner, if a cartridge is too low to print checks, it can still be used to print letters, mailers, etc.

A second important issue related toner and check fraud concerns the printer. If the printer is not heating sufficiently, the toner anchorage will not be activated properly. Insufficient heat is usually caused by one of two things. First, the printer is old and the heating element is not working well. Second, in new printers the heat setting is often placed on low to be more “environmentally friendly.” While that setting might be fine for printing letters, etc., it is insufficient for printing checks. Printers should be set at the highest possible setting for printing checks. Contact a technician if you are not sure about the functioning of your printer.

For more check fraud prevention information, high security checks, secure check writing software, and other incidentals such as toner and envelopes, please contact SAFEChecks.

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