Check washing costs millions every year in the U.S. and it is increasing at an alarming rate.

What is Check Washing?

Crooks steal checks left in mailboxes or remove mail deposited in U.S. Postal Service collection boxes by using keys stolen from mail carriers or by fishing them out with string and something sticky. They may also steal your outgoing mail if you leave it for the postal carrier or even steal mail you receive in hopes to find a check.  Using cheap chemicals like bleach or acetone, they erase the payee name and amount, leaving the signature intact. After drying, checks are rewritten for more money and deposited or cashed.

How to Avoid Check Washing Fraud

There are several things you can do if you’re worried about your checks getting stolen, washed and used for check fraud.

  • Use electronic bill pay and transfers. One of the best ways to avoid check washing fraud is to stop using checks.
  • Use a black gel pen. If you are writing a check, gel pens might have ink that’s harder for criminals to wash off.
  • 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. Don’t mail checks from your home because thieves may be on the lookout for it.
  • 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. 
  • Check bank statements immediately after receiving them. Failure to report check fraud timely may prevent a reimbursement to you.
  • Shred all cancelled checks.