Checkmate: How to Protect Yourself from Check Washing Scams

Check washing

Ever thought about the journey your check takes after you drop it in the mailbox? It could fall prey to to a nefarious activity called check washing, a form of fraud that makes it easy for criminals to legitimally cash it, even in a higher amount.  We can show you how to protect yourself from check washing.

Sounds scary, right? Well hold tight! We’re diving deep into this financial underworld and pulling back the curtain on their tricks. This guide will arm you with the knowledge and tactics to protect your finances from being exploited by these criminals.

Our arsenal is packed with preventive measures. We use indelible ink pens and make sure to shred sensitive documents before they can fall into the wrong hands. Let’s discuss how to protect yourself from check washing

Understanding Check Washing and Its Impact

Check washing, a form of check fraud, is more common than you might think. It’s a criminal act where the original information on a check gets erased using chemicals like nail polish remover. The thief then fills in new details to benefit themselves.

This deceptive practice often targets unsuspecting victims who drop their outgoing mail into collection boxes or let delivered mail sit unattended for too long. It’s simple to overlook the potential risks we may face due to our hectic lifestyles. Still, it’s important to know how to protect yourself from check washing.

How Check Washing Occurs and Its Consequences

Criminals steal checks from the post office or outdoor mail collection boxes during non-business hours when there’s less watchful eyes around. Once they get hold of your checks, these fraud fighters employ common household items like acetone (found in nail polish remover) that washes away everything but the signature intact – hence ‘check washing’.

The washed check is then rewritten with an increased amount directed towards another bank account usually controlled by them. Monthly statements become horror stories as victims find losses ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending upon how quickly they notice the discrepancy.

According to Frank McKenna, Co-founder at PointPredictive – a company specialized in preventing financial crimes – estimates show that annual losses due only to counterfeit checks are roughly $815 million per year. That’s no small chunk change lost due this menace.

A Case Study of A Check Washing Victim

In one instance reported by Amy Nofziger from AARP‘s Fraud Watch Network, a woman found herself facing financial ruin when she discovered several of her checks had been washed and cashed, causing her bank account to be drained by thousands.

The victim stated that the thief likely nabbed her mail from the post office collection box where she regularly posted it. This ordeal not only resulted in substantial monetary loss but also dealt a blow to her credit score due to bounced checks. It was a distressing lesson on how important safeguarding one’s outgoing mail can be.

But, getting back lost money can be tough. That’s because banks usually need to replace funds stolen by fraud within 30 days. This makes it vital to understand how to protect yourself from check washing.

Key Takeaway: 

Check washing is a prevalent form of check fraud where thieves erase the original details on your checks and fill in new ones for their gain. They often steal from unattended mail or USPS collection boxes, using common household items to wash away everything but your signature. The consequences can be devastating with victims losing hundreds to thousands of dollars before they notice discrepancies. Each year, this type of fraud leads to substantial financial losses.

Remain watchful and mindful of potential risks to your financial wellbeing. Monitor your bank statements and credit reports for any odd activity. If you notice any unauthorized transactions or discrepancies, report them immediately to your bank and credit reporting agencies.

By following these preventive measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to check washing and other forms of check fraud. Stay informed, stay cautious, and protect your hard-earned money.

Tips on How to Protect Yourself from Check Washing

Identifying Altered Checks

You’ve been diligent about safeguarding your checks, but you might still be wondering: how can I tell if a check has been altered? Let’s dig into the signs of fraudulent checks and questionable activity.

Check for Signature Discrepancies

A common method used by fraudsters is to leave the original signature intact while altering other parts of the check. Look closely at your checks. Does something seem off with the handwriting or ink color?

If it does, don’t ignore this gut feeling. Instead, compare that signature with previous ones from your records. If there are inconsistencies in style or appearance – raise an alarm.

The Numbers Game

Pay attention to any changes in font type or size on your checks as they could be indicators of tampering. Be extra cautious when reviewing dollar amounts – both written out and numerical versions should match exactly.

Criminals often try to modify these numbers subtly hoping you won’t notice. For example, adding a one before a number (making $20 become $120) or turning 5s into 8s is not uncommon in cases of check washing.

Bleeding Ink and Erasure Marks

When experts offer tips on how to protect yourself from check washing, they recomment using your eyes.  Fraudulent manipulations like erasing existing information typically leave behind traces such as smudges or spots where ink soaks through more than usual areas on paper due to repeated rubbing.

This irregularity may also cause paper fibers around those sections looking worn-out compared to the rest, making them visible under light inspection. So always make sure to take time to thoroughly inspect each document before finalizing the transaction.

Timely Review

It’s important to keep track of bank accounts regularly, especially reviewing monthly bank statements for any unusual activity or discrepancies. This helps identify potential fraud at an early stage, thereby minimizing financial damage.

Think about subscribing to online banking notifications from your bank, which can promptly alert you of any irregular transactions related to your account. 

Seek Expert Help

If something appears off, don’t hesitate to voice your concerns. Feel free to ask questions.

Key Takeaway: 

Keep a keen eye on your checks for any oddities. Signature discrepancies, changes in font or numbers, and signs of erasure are all red flags. Regularly review your bank activities to catch potential fraud early and don’t hesitate to ask questions if something seems off.

Reporting Check Washing Scams

If you’ve been a victim of check washing, reporting it quickly is key. We can help you navigate this daunting process.

The Role of the Postal Inspection Service in Fighting Check Fraud

Fighting check fraud isn’t just your battle—it’s also one that the Postal Inspection Service takes on. They work tirelessly with victims and other agencies like attorney general offices nationwide to stop these criminals.

Remember, if checks mailed from mail collection boxes or delivered mail are stolen and altered—report it immediately to your local post office. They have postal inspectors trained for this exact scenario. The faster they know about it, the quicker they can start their investigation into stopping these fraud fighters at their game.

In some cases, even outdoor mail collection boxes aren’t safe from thieves’ prying hands during non-business hours. So try not using them after pickup time if possible—to reduce risk.

Reporting to Credit Reporting Agencies and Your Bank

If questionable activity is detected on your account, contact your bank promptly to minimize any potential damage. If funds were stolen due generally required banking procedures being violated by criminals steal money out of thin air (literally), banks might replace those funds while investigations occur.

A call doesn’t hurt either—the sooner an insurance company knows what’s happened; better off everyone will end up being when all said done.

“I reported my case immediately,” says Amy Nofziger—a director at AARP’s Fraud Watch Network—who had experienced such an incident herself once. “Because of my quick action, the bank could freeze my account and stop further fraudulent transactions.”

Next on your list should be credit reporting agencies. It’s crucial to let them know about the situation so they can monitor your credit score for any suspicious activity—especially since check washing can often lead to identity theft.

You might not think it, but having a trusted friend in this process is helpful too. Someone who will watch out with you while handling such stressful situations—it does wonders for keeping one sane.

Key Takeaway: 

Quick reporting of check washing scams is essential to prevent further damage. Reach out immediately to your local post office, bank, and credit agencies when you spot suspicious activity on your account. The Postal Inspection Service actively fights check fraud, so trust them with the details. Be cautious using USPS collection boxes after pickup times for added safety.

FAQs in Relation to How to Protect Yourself From Check Washing

How do you avoid check washing?

To dodge check washing, always use indelible ink pens. Handle mail securely and shred sensitive documents before disposal.

Do gel pens prevent check washing?

Gel pens can help ward off check washers. Specifically, black non-erasable gel inks are the toughest for scammers to alter.

What pens to use to avoid check washing?

Pens with permanent or fraud-resistant ink like uni-ball 207s are best at thwarting attempts by swindlers trying to wash checks.

How do you write a check that can’t be washed?

Craft your checks using a pen with pigmented, water-based gel ink that binds itself into the paper fibers making it resistant against tampering.


Now you know how to protect yourself from check washing. It’s not overly difficult, but it does necessitate being watchful.

You’ve learned that criminals can and will steal your checks right out of the mailbox. They’re crafty, using common household items like nail polish remover to alter your checks for their gain.

We highlighted the importance of online banking and shredding sensitive documents. Simple yet effective steps such as online banking, shredding sensitive documents and using indelible black gel ink pens can help protect your money from fraudsters.

The use of indelible black gel ink pens is another crucial takeaway – they give us an edge in this fight against check washers because such ink soaks into paper fibers making alterations nearly impossible!

Last but certainly not least, we underscored how vital reporting these scams is – contacting authorities like the Postal Inspection Service or credit reporting agencies could help stop these scammers in their tracks.


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