SAFEChecks toner laser printers and check fraud

Many organizations do not recognize the connection between the toner, laser printers, and check fraud. Poor quality toner or a laser printer that does not heat sufficiently or that has "rippled" roller bars will reduce the effectiveness of toner anchorage. This opens the door for a check to be fraudulently altered.


Toner is not ink. It is black powder mixed with tiny bits of plastic. The heat from a laser printer melts the plastic, which mixes with the powder, and then 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 common office tape, or scraped off with a razor blade or a sharp knife.

Toner anchorage is a thin, invisible, chemical coating applied at the mill to the front of paper that will be used to make high security 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 high security 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. Many instances of altered checks have been traced back to the fact that the company issuing the checks was using cheap toner.

Laser Printers

Laser printers also play an important role in check fraud prevention. If the printer does not heat sufficiently, the toner anchorage will not be activated. If a printer is old and the heating element or fuser is not heating properly, it should be replaced. In new printers, the heat setting is often placed on low to be more “environmentally friendly.” While that is fine for printing letters, etc., it is insufficient for printing checks. While printing checks, printers should be set at the highest possible heat setting

A second issue with laser printers is the condition of the rollers. Over time, the rollers inside printers may become "rippled" and not be completely smooth. These slight indentations may prevent the toner anchorage from being activated evenly. Contact a technician if you are not sure about the functioning of your printer.