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The Treasury is stepping up its war against counterfeiters by modifying its checks just in time for the final mailings of income tax refunds.

But Commissioner Russell D. Morris of Treasury's Financial Management Service said Wednesday that nearly all of the changes will be so subtle most people won't even notice.The most prominent change will be a printed "Warning" on the backs of the checks telling people to hold the checks up to a light to make sure a new "U.S. Treasury" watermark is visible.

The Treasury issues about 450 million checks worth nearly $300 billion a year to Social Security recipients, veterans and others.

The changeover is expected to occur in time for some income tax refunds to be written on the new checks next month, said spokesman A. J. Montgomery.

The new checks are designed to prevent alterations and counterfeiting by people using the latest copying and printing technology.

Morris asserted that while counterfeit and altered checks are not major problems, "even a few threaten the integrity of government payments and pose unacceptable costs to taxpayers and financial institutions."

To make room for the warning on the new checks and to make the watermark visible, the Treasury will remove lines of "USA" currently printed on the reverse sides.

It also plans to add a fluorescent stripe across the front of the check that will cover the box showing the amount of the check. The stripe will be detectable only under a black light and, if the box is altered, a "hole" will be created in the ultraviolet area.

It also will darken the pastel colors on the face of the check to highlight the engraving of the Statue of Liberty. The engraving was added to the paper checks in 1985.

Financial institutions absorb most of the losses because the Treasury refuses payment on counterfeit or altered checks.