Tower member Terry H, says, "We put a check in the mailbox outside our local post office at noon and by four p.m. it had been stolen, altered, and whoever is involved, attempted to cash it. Altered a 12-hundred check to 12-thousand dollars."
Check washing scams involve changing the payee names and often the dollar amounts on checks and fraudulently depositing them. Occasionally, these checks are stolen from mailboxes and washed in chemicals to remove the ink. Some scammers will even use copiers or scanners to print fake copies of a check. In fact, Postal Inspectors recover more than $1 billion in counterfeit checks and money orders every year, but you can take steps to protect yourself.
How to stay safe
To avoid getting ripped off:
- Take advantage of electronic payment methods. Use an online bill-pay service, such as Tower's Bill Payment. Or make payments via a service like Venmo or PayPal.
- Safer than cash, a Visa® gift card is the perfect present to give rather than sending a check. Gift cards are available in all Tower branches and can be purchased in any dollar amount from $10 to $500.
- If you must write a check, use a gel ink pen, as the ink is more difficult for thieves to remove than ball point-pen ink.
- Did you get a message about insufficient funds from your bank when you thought the money was there? Or notice a payment made from your account to someone or a business you don't know? Review cleared check images in your digital banking accounts to make sure that they have not been altered or endorsed by someone other than the payee. If something looks wrong, contact your bank/credit union immediately so the cleared check can be reversed/refused and the funds placed back in your account. It's always a smart idea to monitor your accounts daily using digital banking so you can get help and stop the damage quickly.
- Never leave delivered mail in your mailbox overnight.
- Hold your mail if you're going on vacation. Have it held at the post office or picked up by a friend or neighbor.
- Do not put mail in the big, blue collection boxes on the street. The highest rate of mail theft locally is from these boxes and at boxes in other public places.
- Do not leave outgoing mail in your mailbox. That little red flag is an open opportunity for thieves. Take outgoing mail to your office, or mail it indoors at a post office, or mailing outlet store.
- Keep your mailbox visible. Trim shrubbery around your mailbox, eliminating hiding places for thieves.
- Get a post office box (a rented lockable mailbox at the post office). If theft is a concern, the cost of renting a post office box may be worth the investment, since thefts from such boxes are rare, according to postal authorities.
If you've been a victim of stolen mail check fraud, in addition to contacting your financial institutions, make sure to report it to the USPS hotline: 1-800-275-8777 or 1-800-ASK-USPS.