The Federal Reserve Board has begun surveying 5,200 bankers about check fraud, trying to learn how prevalent it is and whether letting banks hold deposits an extra day would help stop it.

The one-time survey, which asks for 1995 data, is voluntary. Questionnaires must be returned by April 12, and the Fed must report the results to Congress by September.

Minor changes were made to the original draft, which was released in December. For example, a question asking banks to determine how much fraud was caused by "organized and professional efforts" was dropped because the agency couldn't clearly define the phrase.

Janice Shields, a research analyst at the Center for Study of Responsive Law in Washington, said the study is a ruse. The Fed's real goal is to create an excuse for revising the Expedited Funds Availability Act to let banks hold customer deposits an extra day, she said.

"When the survey asks whether a banker thinks the rule should be extended by a day," she said, it might as well "have given the choice of yes and yes."

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