Check Fraud is on the Rise

by Safety Connection

October 1, 2022

This week someone cut into a postal drop box in front of the Struck Street post office on Madison’s west side and took the contents.

Do you still send checks through the mail? Check washing and mail fraud are on the rise across the country, and some experts say it’s because anti-fraud technology (like chip cards) has forced thieves to go back to “old-school” methods of identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission says fraud losses rose 70% in 2021.

Thieves use acetone to “wash” checks but leave your signature. Then they can change the payee and the check amount. Other thieves will steal the bank account information from your check to wire money or create fake ID cards in your name.

So how can you protect yourself?

The best option is to switch to online payments through your bank and digital payment services like PayPal and Venmo, and send as few paper checks as possible.

You can also:

  • Pay attention to the collection times on the post office drop box and deposit your mail before the last collection time (i.e. never let your checks/mail sit in a box overnight—your own mailbox or one belonging to the USPS)
  • Go inside the post office to mail your checks or hand your mail directly to a mail carrier
  • Use a special fraud-proof gel pen to write out your checks to make it difficult for thieves to “wash” the payee and amount. Black ink is more difficult to wash than blue.
  • Use a shredder to dispose of old or never-used checks

And of course monitor your bank account regularly. If you suspect a check is lost or has been stolen, contact your bank or credit union immediately and put a stop payment on it (you may be charged a fee).

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