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Check Washing

Don’t fall victim to a check washing scam. Read this post to learn more about check washing, the process, and what you can do to protect yourself.

What is Check Washing?

Have you ever sent a check that was cashed but the recipient said it never arrived? You may be the victim of check washing. 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 fraudsters 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.

What is the Check Washing Process?

According to the National Check Fraud Center, fraudsters erase the ink on a check with chemicals found in common household cleaning products and then reuse the checks by rewriting to themselves. When you check your bank statement, you see that your check went through and the amount of the check matches. $300 for your car payment; $1,000 for your mortgage; $200 for utilities. It’s only when you start getting notifications from your debtors that you discover the checks you’ve written were stolen. By then, weeks or months may have passed. You might have lost thousands of dollars. And, just imagine if a criminal rewrites the check for an even larger amount than you originally wrote.

What Can I Do to Protect Myself?

The problem has become so severe that many local and federal authorities have formed task forces around the country with agents from the Postal Inspection Service, United States Attorney’s office, local police forgery units, FBI, and Secret Service. They offer the following advice:

  • Do not put you bills in a residential mailbox. The red flag sticking up is like an invitation to a fraudster. If you put outgoing mail in your mailbox, do it immediately before the letter carrier arrives, and don’t raise the mailbox flag. Better yet, take your mail to work, drop it in a collection box, hand it to a letter carrier, or take it directly to the post office.
  • Never leave mail in your mailbox overnight.
  • Shred canceled checks. If you need to save them, make sure they are stored in a secured area such as a safe deposit box or safe. Do not throw them in the trash.
  • Do not discard credit card records or other bills with the household trash. If thrown away, they should be shredded.
  • Check bank statements immediately after receiving them. If you fail to report check fraud within 30 days of receiving your monthly statement, the bank may not reimburse your loss.
  • Log in to review your account activity as well as the checks that have posted. You can view check images in both Online and Mobile Banking.
  • Consider paying your bills online.
  • If you’re going on vacation, have your mail held at the post office or have it picked up by a friend or neighbor.

Next Steps

The fraudster’s main objective with check washing is to create a truly blank check. The ink contained in a standard blue ballpoint pen is easily removed with acetone, but black ink can be more problematic. Experts say gel pens with black ink provide the best protection against check washing since the gel ink resists chemical stripping and contains pigments which permeate the fibers of the check itself. Check washing is not as profitable for the fraudster if the checks look altered or bleached. One way to protect yourself against the threat of check washing is to switch from blue to black ink when writing checks, and to use a gel pen whenever possible.

At Republic Bank, we can about your privacy and security. If you have questions, concerns, or believe you have been the victim of check washing, please call us immediately at 800-526-9127.

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