If you think writing a check is safer than paying for items online, think again. While many believe writing checks are a safe and secure way of conducting transactions, they are also easily stolen, faked or forged. According to the United States Postal Inspection Service, check-washing continues to be a fairly common way for thieves to get your money. BBB warns consumers to be on the lookout for check-washing thieves when mailing checks.
How the scam works
You write a check, put it in your mailbox, and raise the little red flag. Thieves then take that bill payment or birthday card and erase the ink using basic household chemicals. This allows them to make the check out to a new recipient — often themselves — and cash the check. Since you did sign the check, the signature is legitimate, and if the deposit amount remains the same, you may never realize that the intended recipient never received their money, until they inform you that you are late on a payment. Often the thief will manipulate the amount on the check either by changing the amount or by adding zeros.
When you write a check, you are essentially giving someone a piece of paper with a lot of personally identifiable information, along with the account number to your financial institution. Many people are under the impression that this is safer, but that’s not necessarily so.
If you notice any of the following, you may be a victim of check-washing:
Unauthorized large checks begin clearing your bank account. Reconcile your checkbook against your statement. If there are discrepancies in amount or recipient, alert your bank right away.
You receive overdraft notices. If you normally maintain enough funds to cover your expenses, an overdraft notice, declined transactions or bounced checks may be a sign that someone has withdrawn a large amount from your account.
If you do decide to pay by check, BBB recommends the following:
Resist placing outgoing mail in your mailbox. Unless you have a locking mailbox, it is very easy for thieves to steal your outgoing mail and checks. Instead, place outgoing mail in the receptacle inside the post office building.
Monitor your bank account on a regular basis. Reconcile your accounts on a weekly or bimonthly schedule at the very least. Report fraudulent or questionable activity to your bank immediately.
Sign up for bank alerts. Most financial institutions offer push alerts which notify account holders of unusual/possible fraudulent activity and low balances on their accounts.
Scam proof your checks. Make your checks difficult to forge or alter. Request high security checks from your bank, use gel pens rather than ballpoint pens, and leave as little space as possible between numbers so criminals are unable to fill in empty spaces.
For more tips on how to be a savvy business owner, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, please call BBB at 903-581-5704 or use BBB ScamTracker.