WASHINGTON — A fast-growing corps of "point-and-click" criminals, from lone computer buffs to gangs, are stealing billions of dollars using counterfeit checks--many times what bank robbers steal with guns.
The Secret Service and FBI warned Congress on Thursday that fraud based on counterfeit checks is a thriving new area of crime.
Consumer advocates cautioned that some of the solutions, such as banks' requiring noncustomers to apply thumb prints to checks, penalize the innocent without deterring the guilty.
"The Secret Service has seen a dramatic increase in the number of investigations specifically relating to the counterfeiting of checks," Kevin T. Foley, the service's deputy assistant director, told the House banking monetary policy subcommittee.
Estimates of the size of the problem vary widely. The Federal Reserve Board put the cost of check fraud to banks at $615 million in 1995, more than 10 times the $59 million attributed to bank robbery.
The FBI said data compiled from banks, businesses and individuals showed losses amounting to $5 billion in 1993.