facebook twitter instagram linkedin google youtube vimeo tumblr yelp rss email podcast phone blog search brokercheck brokercheck Play Pause
Guard Your Finances: Unveiling the Check Washing Scam Epidemic Thumbnail

Guard Your Finances: Unveiling the Check Washing Scam Epidemic

By Melissa L. Mueller – Financial Planner

A scam called “check washing” is currently on the rise. This occurs when thieves steal checks, usually through the mail, and use household chemicals to “wash” the existing ink on the check. They wash the payee information, and often the amount as well, and replace it with a fake identity and amount.

They may also sell the washed checks to other criminals online for $250-$600 each. The information taken from the checks can be used to steal even more money or take out loans in the victim’s name. The Better Business Bureau estimates that $815 million is lost each year due to this tactic, and reports of check fraud have doubled in recent years.

There are some simple steps you can take to guard against becoming a victim of this scam:

  • Take advantage of secure electronic payment methods when possible.
  • If you must mail a check, try to drop it directly at the post office, or in a blue mail bin prior to the final pick up for the day. Try to avoid placing checks in your residence mailbox with the flag up.
  • Use a black gel pen with non-erasable ink to write checks. These pens seep into the check’s fibers and are resistant to the common chemicals used in check washing.
  • Call your bank to inquire about “positive pay” services. Many banks offer these services that allow you to pre-authorize checks by their check number.
  • If you are out of town, have your mail held at the post office. 
  • Monitor your bank accounts regularly.

The Postal Inspection Service claims they are working on their end to tighten up control as well. Blue boxes are being installed with metal teeth “rakes” to make it harder to pull out envelopes. They are also considering higher tech solutions, though the volume of boxes makes this challenging.

If you do fall victim to a scam like this, contact your bank immediately. You should also report the incident to the US Postal Service at: https://www.uspis.gov/report, your local police department, and credit reporting agencies.

Please contact your Buckingham Advisor if you have any questions or if we can be of any assistance.