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Beware Check Washing Scams

Beware Check Washing Scams

When Midge Laurin mailed out a $30 check, she had no idea it would be intercepted by a scammer and written out to someone else for almost $10K! Check-washing scams are on the rise and can leave victims struggling to get their lost funds back. Here’s what you need to know about these scams and how to avoid them.


How the scams play out


In a check-washing scam like what’s described above, a target places a check in the mail. It gets stolen by scammers, who use acetone or bleach to erase the ink on the check. Finally, they’ll rewrite the numbers and/or the payee before depositing the checks into their own accounts.


Sometimes, the scammer will take the ruse further by using the checking account details found on the check to commit further crimes against the check-writer. This may include producing counterfeit checks in the victim’s name, as well as fake IDs, driver’s licenses and passports. The victim may only learn about these crimes when they start getting overdraft notices or are informed their ID is no longer valid.


Protect yourself


Unfortunately, many financial institutions don’t offer complete protection on fraud that is not reported within a few days of its occurrence. Some offer partial protection for up to 60 days.


Law enforcement agencies on a local and federal level, including the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the FBI, have task forces to help stop check washing. They offer the following strategies for keeping your checks safe from scams:


  • Whenever possible, use mobile and online banking services, or P2P systems, instead of checks.

  • When writing checks, use black ink, preferably gel. 

  • Don’t raise your mailbox flag when there are bill payments inside. Hand this mail directly to your carrier or mail it from the post office.

  • When mailing checks, use envelopes that have security tinting.

  • Shred or burn all canceled checks, checks deposited through your mobile app, credit card statements and bills. 

  • Review your checking account activity frequently. 

  • Store your checks in a secure place within your home.

  •  Avoid making checks out to “cash”.


Follow the tips outlined here to keep your checks safe.

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