Check Washing & Other Check Fraud is Trending Again

August 8, 2023

Check fraud is coming back into fashion, particularly check washing – and just like acid washed jeans – this is a trend we wish would never come back. Alas, here we are as 2022 set an all-time record number of fraud reports filed with the Federal Trade Commission.
You may find it ironic, but the digital age has not eliminated check fraud. In fact, it has actually made scam artists even savvier than before – go figure! Scammers are always looking for new ways to commit check fraud and they’re really good at it. They forge signatures, alter ink on stolen checks, and literally wash the information right off a check so they can rewrite it for their own nefarious activity.
As long as there have been checks, there has been check fraud. Check washing is when criminals use chemicals to erase the ink on a check, and then rewrite the check to someone else for a different amount. This antiquated approach to check fraud has seen a resurgence – just like the mullet. But unlike the business in the front, party in the back hairstyle, there is nothing cool about check fraud.
But where are these criminals getting the checks? That too has evolved over time. Many times, checks are stolen directly from unsuspecting citizens’ mailboxes with their flags up, or even fished out of stand-alone USPS mail receptable boxes.
We aren’t telling you this as a scare tactic, it’s just real-world knowledge that could save you from making mistakes in the long run. So, here’s what you can do to prevent check fraud:
  1. Use Online Banking and Bill Pay, it really is a more secure way to pay.
  2. Set up automated account alerts to let you know, in real-time, when checks are cashed.
  3. Reserve check writing as a last resort.
  4. Don’t accept checks from people you don’t know, they could be enlisting your help in the crime unsuspectingly.
  5. Write your checks using a black gel pen or indelible ink. The gel seeps into the fibers of a check and will ruin an attempt of washing. Indelible ink cannot be washed off.
  6. Ensure your checks have the latest anti-copy technology such as heat detection paper, high-resolution borders, complex colors, and a foil hologram.
  7. Take valuable mail directly inside the Post Office and hand it to an employee. Do not place it in your mailbox. Never raise the red flag on the box, which draws criminal attention.
Along with the tips above, there are other special steps businesses can take to proactively identify vulnerabilities:
  1. Enlist the services of Positive Pay, an automated fraud prevention system used to protect against forged, altered, and counterfeit checks.
  2. Reconcile your business accounts regularly to catch unusual activity.
  3. Maintain accurate check logs.
  4. Internally require two signatures on every check.
  5. Never pre-sign checks.
  6. Lock up blank checks and signature stamps.
  7. Set up a plan to review important financial information at varying frequencies.
A little diligence can go a long way to avoiding check scams. The last thing you need is to wind up the victim of fraud! If it does happen to you, call us as soon as possible to talk through options.