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How to avoid a check washing scam; tips from the NY DCP

N.Y. (WETM) – With check fraud on the rise over the last few years, you can never be too careful when it comes to avoiding mail theft. The New York Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection has provided tips for you to use to avoid this harmful scam.

When it comes to check washing scams, the person committing the crime steals checks from the mail, often in bulk, and uses chemicals such as nail polish remover to “wash” the payee and dollar amount from the original check. The person then leaves the original signature and profits by making the check out to themselves or selling the signed stolen check.

According to the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, check fraud crime numbers increased nationwide in 2020 and have only gotten worse since.

FinCEN reported receiving over 680,000 suspicious activity reports related to check fraud in 2022, almost doubling the number recorded in 2021.

In order to avoid becoming a victim of one of these scams, here are some tips you can follow:

  • Drop your mail off at the post office directly.
    • When using a collection box, scammers have the time to steal checks in bulk because they aren’t supervised. Dropping off a check at the post office ensures it goes directly into the right hands. If you wish to use a collection box, try to drop mail off before the last pickup of the day to minimize the amount of time it spends in the box.
  • Check your mail box frequently.
    • Try not to leave mail in your mailbox overnight. This gives people more time to access your mailbox and steal your mail.
  • Hold mail at your local post office.
  • Use black gel pens when writing out checks.
    • Gel pen ink can be harder to erase in comparison to the ink from standard ballpoint pens.
  • Sign up for informed delivery from USPS.
    • By using an informed delivery service, you will receive daily emails with pictures of all letter-sized mail for your address each day. That way, you know what mail to expect in your mailbox each day.
  • Check your checking account regularly.
    • Keep an eye out for unusual or unexpected withdrawals from your bank account, and make sure to take the time to confirm when your checks go through.

In the event that you end up experiencing a check washing scam, you should do the following:

  • Contact your bank immediately.
  • File a police report.
  • Report the incident to the United States Postal Inspection Service by phone at 1-877-876-2455 or online on the agency’s website.

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