Check fraud is a persistent thorn in the side of bankers. And while no one will own up to exactly how much money is being lost to check fraud, most experts agree it's a multi-billion dollar problem for U.S. bankers and their customers.

What makes check fraud a particularly troubling problem-and a potentially worsening one, experts note-is the rapid proliferation of relatively inexpensive hardware and software that allow crooks to generate near-perfect counterfeits of checks and identification documents needed to negotiate these checks. Before members at a Congressional panel last month, Charles L. Owens, chief of the FBI's financial crimes section, noted: "Today's computer technology has made the counterfeiting of checks relatively simple." He estimates that more than 1.2 million worthless checks are accepted for payment each day by U.S. banks and businesses, and that more than 50 percent of those items are the work of professional and organized crime groups.

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