Despite the declining popularity of paper checks, fraudsters are still finding ways to capitalize on them. A trending form of fraud, called “check washing,” has become increasingly recognized at financial institutions across the U.S., raising concerns for those who still prefer to pay with a check.
How Do Scammers “Wash” Checks?
Scammers employ various tactics to obtain checks. Typically, they target standalone mailboxes in residential areas, which are the safest targets. By rifling through mailboxes, they search for signed checks that individuals have sent. Once a suitable check is found, they use chemical methods to remove the original ink, leaving only the account holder's signature behind. They then can alter the payee and check amount, attempting to cash it at a bank.
How Do Banks Fight Check Washing?
While most banks are privy to this type of fraud, it can be challenging to catch. Fortunately, banks are incredibly diligent in ensuring that anyone who handles checks knows the signs of check washing. Educating staff, however, is not foolproof. Some scammers are experienced and can alter the check with little evidence. In these cases, the victim most often recognizes the fraud when the excess funds are withdrawn from their account.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
If you're someone who prefers to pay by check, primarily via the mail, consider the following tips to protect yourself from this all-too-common scam:
For more information on common scams and how to avoid them, visit FSB's Security Center.