May 26, 2023

Check Theft & Fraud

Protect Yourself from Scammers

According to a recent alert to banks from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, part of the Treasury Department, criminals have been increasingly targeting the U.S. Mail and United States Postal Service mail carriers since the COVID-19 pandemic to commit check fraud. Criminals typically steal personal checks, business checks, tax refund checks, and checks related to government assistance programs, such as Social Security payments and unemployment benefits.

Following the initial theft and fraudulent negotiation of the stolen checks, criminals may continue to exploit their victims by using the personal identifiable information found in the stolen mail for future fraud schemes, such as credit card fraud or credit account fraud.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond said that in 2022, required bank-filed Suspicious Activity Reports were up 80% from 2021.

What is check washing and how is it used?

Criminals steal paper checks sent through the mail, for example, by fishing them from USPS mailboxes or by taking them out of your personal mailbox. They may even rob postal workers in search of checks. Once they have a check you wrote and mailed, for example, to a charity, they use chemicals to “wash” the check in order to change the amount or make themselves the payee. They then deposit your check and steal money from your account. If you have mailed a check that was paid, but the recipient never received it, you may be a check washing victim.

How can you protect yourself?

  • Consider making payments using e-check, ACH automatic payments and other electronic and/or mobile payments.
  • Use pens with indelible black ink so it is more difficult to wash your checks.
  • Follow up with charities and other businesses to make sure they received your check.
  • Use online *banking to review copies of your checks to ensure they were not altered.
  • If you still receive paid checks back from the bank, shred – don’t just trash them.
  • Regularly review your bank activity and statements for errors.
  • Don’t leave blank spaces in the payee or amount lines of checks you write.

The United States Postal Inspection Services also recommends that you:

  • Drop off mail in blue collection boxes before the last scheduled pick-up time or directly at your local Post Office.
  • Regularly check your mail. Do not leave your mail in your mailbox overnight.
  • If you’re heading out of town, have the Post Office hold your mail or ask a trusted friend or neighbor to pick up your mail.

What to do if you’re a victim?

Timing is critical in filing a claim. File a report immediately with:

  • The United States Postal Inspection Service at or call 1-877-876-2455
  • Your local police department
  • Your financial instutution

Source: American Bankers Association

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