What is Check Washing?
Check washing is when thieves steal checks from the mail and wash away the payee and amount. They can then sell the blank signed check, or make it out to themselves, and deposit the money into an account they control. Unfortunately, recovering your money can take time, and it can be a difficult crime to avoid unless you stop mailing checks.
How to Avoid Check Washing Fraud
Here are several things you can do.
- Use electronic bill pay and transfers. One of the best ways to avoid check washing fraud is to stop using checks. You might be able to sign up for free online bill pay services through your credit union, or use your credit or debit card to pay bills online. Direct bank transfers or peer-to-peer payment apps could be a better option when sending money to friends or family.
- Use a black gel pen. If you are writing a check, gel pens might have ink that's harder for criminals to wash off. Some gel pens, such as Uni-Ball pens with Super Ink, even claim that their ink protects against fraud.
- Drop checks off at the post office. Minimize the likelihood that a thief will steal your check by putting it into the mail at the post office rather than leaving it in a blue USPS box. If you're mailing a check from your home, don't raise the flag on your mailbox—thieves may be on the lookout for these.
- Retrieve mail from your mailbox daily. You never know when a thief will try to steal your mail, so it's best to frequently check your mailbox. You can also sign up for Informed Delivery from the USPS to get an email with images of the letter-sized mail you should receive each day.
- Ask for a USPS mail hold when traveling. If you're going to be out of town, you can request a USPS mail hold, and the USPS will hold your mail for up to 30 days.
- Frequently review your checking account and look for unusual or unexpected withdrawals.
You can also warn family members and friends, who regularly send checks, about the dangers of mail theft and the steps they can take to help avoid check washing fraud.
What to Do if Your Money is Stolen
- Contact your financial institution immediately. You may be able to put a hold on the check to keep criminals from using it.
- If the check has already been deposited, still contact your institution to report the fraud. You may need to file a police report.
Monitor Your Credit for Identity Theft
Although check thieves focus on washing and using—or selling—checks, some can use the information from your mail to steal your identity. Regularly checking your credit card or using a credit monitoring service with free alerts, can quickly warn you if someone tries to open a credit account using your information.
DeNicola, L. (2023, April 19). What is Check Washing. Retrieved June 14, 2023, from https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/what-is-check-washing/