Check Washing – What is It and 5 Ways, You Can Avoid It

check washing fraud prevention

Check washing is a form of financial fraud that involves altering checks to obtain unauthorized funds. It is a type of identity theft that can leave unsuspecting victims with financial losses and a compromised personal or business reputation.

Point Predictive’s Fraud Examiner Justin Davis recently spoke to NBC about fraudsters seemingly returning to this old scam of check washing. Justin explains:

“Once stimulus dried up, they had to switch to other types of fraud, and a very easy way to do this is just stealing checks out of the mail. Fraudsters try to find the easiest ways to make a quick buck. And it’s effortless right now to just wash a check, deposit it and move it on.”

So, what is check washing, how does it work, and most importantly, how can you protect yourself from becoming a victim of this crime?

What is check washing?

Check washing is a type of fraud where criminals alter the details on checks, usually the payee’s name and the amount, to obtain unauthorized funds. This is accomplished by using chemicals such as acetone or bleach to remove the original ink from the check and then using a pen to rewrite the information to benefit the perpetrator. Both personal and business checks can be fraudulently altered and used to steal large amounts of money.

How does check washing work?

It starts with the criminal obtaining a check from the victim, usually through theft or some other form of illegal activity. They then use chemicals to erase the information on the check and rewrite it in a way that benefits them. For example, they may change the payee’s name to their own and alter the amount to a higher value. The modified check is then deposited or cashed into the criminal’s account, allowing them to access the funds.

How can you avoid it?

To avoid becoming a victim, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself:

  1. Be cautious with your checks: Be careful where you store your checks, and do not leave them lying around where they can be easily stolen. If you need to mail a check, use a secure mailbox, or send it via certified mail.
  2. Use gel pens: Gel pens are resistant to the chemicals used in check washing and can help protect your checks. When writing a check, use a gel pen with a dark ink that cannot be easily erased or altered.
  3. Check your bank statements: Regularly check your bank statements to ensure that all transactions are legitimate. If you notice any unauthorized activity, report it to your bank immediately.
  4. Use electronic payments: Instead of writing paper checks, consider using electronic payment methods such as online bill pay or direct deposit. These methods are more secure and less prone to fraud.
  5. Shred old checks: When you no longer need a check, shred it instead of throwing it away. This will prevent anyone from stealing it and using it for fraudulent purposes.

In conclusion, check washing is a serious financial crime with devastating consequences for victims. By taking the necessary precautions and being vigilant with your finances, you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of this type of fraud. Always be aware of your surroundings and the security of your financial documents, and use secure payment methods whenever possible. With these simple steps, you can avoid the risks of check washing and keep your finances safe.

Watch the full NBC news story here

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