Don't Be A Victim of Check Fraud
Have you ever mailed a check to someone and verified that it was cashed, then the recipient said it never arrived? You may be the victim of check fraud.
Check fraud isn’t a new phenomenon, but there has been a dramatic increase in this type of fraud over the last several years. According to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (also known as FinCEN), the annual volume of check fraud increased by 84% to $815 million in the U.S. in 2022. One of the most common tactics driving this rise in check fraud is mail theft. Fraudsters are stealing mail, looking for checks, then selling these checks to others.
Here are some common methods scammers use to commit fraud with a stolen check:
- Altering information on a check: A scammer may use common household chemicals to change the printed dollar amount and payee name on a check. This is sometimes called “check washing.”
- Forging endorsements and engaging in identity theft: Checks typically include name and address information on them, and criminals may use that information to steal someone’s identity. A fraudster may even attempt to open a bank account to negotiate the check payable to the intended payee by forging the endorsement, and then go on to leverage that stolen identity to apply for credit products using the victims’ personal information.
- Creating counterfeit or duplicate checks: By using the information on the stolen check, fraudsters may further exploit the victim’s account information by creating additional counterfeit copies of the check.
What you can do to protect yourself from mail theft and check fraud?
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help reduce your risk of getting taken advantage of by someone engaging in a mail theft-related check fraud scheme. Here are some tips to keep in mind to help protect yourself from check fraud when sending money to others:
- Pay digitally. Reduce the number of checks you send by utilizing digital payment methods. Consider using payment apps like Zelle® when sending money to family or friends.
- Use your bank to send checks on your behalf. If you do have to pay for something via check, take advantage of the bill pay service offered by most banks.
- Consider the type of check-writing pen you use. If you do write a check, make sure you're using a black gel pen. These types of pens have ink that’s more difficult to remove.
- Use mailboxes that are secure. If you need to send any checks by mail, use the mailbox inside of a USPS facility rather than at a curbside USPS mailbox or your residential outgoing mail.
- Keep your bank account information safe. Don’t share or post your bank account information anywhere publicly, and never share account information with anyone with whom you did not initiate the communication. Do not allow websites to save your routing/transit and account number information.
What to Do If You Are Scammed
If you think you’ve been targeted by a counterfeit check scam, report it immediately to any of the following agencies:
- The U.S. Postal Inspection Service at www.uspis.gov (if you received the check in the mail).
- Your state or local consumer protection agencies or your state Attorney General.
- For possible online crimes involving counterfeit checks and money orders, file an online complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov) (a joint project of the FBI and National White Collar Crime Center). In addition to notifying the bank whose name is on the check, you can notify the website or online service where you encountered the scammer (for example, the online auction website or job posting website), so they can block them from utilizing their services in the future.