If someone writes a check but forgets to sign it, the bank may still honor it. There's also a good chance a person might not see the unsigned check. For example, if the check isn't presented to a teller for payment but is deposited through the automated system, an unsigned check could make it through the entire process without a human ever seeing it. Either way, the payee — the one the check is written to — will have to assume the risk that the check is bad. If the payee agrees to cover the check if it bounces, the bank will probably accept an unsigned check.
The owner of a checking account normally can't be held liable for a check she didn't sign. This protects the owner against someone stealing and using her blank checks. However, the account owner can choose to pay a legitimate unsigned check rather than contesting it. If the owner wrote the check as part of a business transaction she benefited from — such as paying for services — she's generally obligated not to contest the check.
Making a Guarantee
Banks are not obligated to accept unsigned checks. However, many banks are willing to accept one, provided the payee guarantees the check. To do this, the payee adds a line such as "lack of signature guaranteed" to her normal endorsement. The added writing tells the bank that if the payer doesn't honor the check or her bank account can't cover it, the bank can debit the payee's account for the deposited or cashed check.
Risks and Options
If all goes well, depositing and guaranteeing the check will work just as well for the payee as if the check had been signed. It also saves a payee from having to contact the payer and ask her to write and sign another check. In some circumstances — such as a customer a business has never dealt with before — it's possible the check writer is committing fraud and the check won't be honored. As a result, the Express Recovery Service advises businesses never to accept unsigned checks, just in case they get ripped off.
If the check isn't honored or doesn't clear, the payee is in the same situation as anyone with a bad check. The payer hasn't honored her debt, so the payee can contact her and ask for payment. It's best to use certified mail to report the bad check. This letter will help build a case if the payee has to sue the payer in court.