MICR characters 2 and 5 magnetic signalA MICR misread, also called a MICR substitution, is when one character in the magnetic ink on a check is mistaken for another during the scanning process. Not to be confused with a can’t-read, which is when the correct character can’t be determined at all.

Misreads are considered to be among the more “dangerous” errors in check scanning. While a can’t-read simply generates an error, a misread substitutes one character for another — which can result in things like incorrect account numbers that are still valid; account balance problems, and other serious mistakes.

Substitution errors occur for many of the same reasons as can’t-reads, including out-of-spec magnetic printing or inconsistent feed rates. However, they occur far less frequently (it takes quite a bit of luck for an incorrect magnetic character to read correctly as another character; most of the time, it will simply cause an error). One of the most common MICR misreads is the substitution of a 2 for a 5 and vice versa, as those characters are close to mirror images of each other and the resulting magnetic waveforms are similar.