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How the Rising Tide of Check Fraud Can Sink Financial Security

Blog Post
person handing over a check to a bank teller

Physical checks might seem like a payment relic in the digital age, but many people still prefer them to credit and debit cards – including criminals. Whether due to habit, distrust of digital systems, or personal preference, this traditional payment method is still used by people of all ages. But an alarming rise in check fraud cases has led to calls for Americans to avoid mailing checks if at all possible.

Here’s what you should know about check fraud.

Check Fraud Defined

Check fraud is the unauthorized withdrawal of funds from your bank account using checks linked to the account. While individual crooks can commit this crime, police suspect that organized crime rings are conducting large-scale check fraud operations.

How Check Fraud Works

Crooks typically gain access to checks by stealing outgoing mail from residential mailboxes with the help of a stolen universal key. Some will resort to brute force to retrieve the contents of collection boxes. More sophisticated operations may intercept your mail from actual USPS drop-off boxes.

They use inexpensive chemicals to wash away the ink from stolen checks. This results in clean checks that display authentic account information. Criminals then make the check payable to a fake identity they've created and cash it for a hefty amount before you realize what’s happened.

For example, you might find that your check #541 mailed to "ABC Utility Services" for $85.00 was cashed by someone with a name you do not recognize for $3,500. Thieves capitalize on the "float" period, the time between the cashing of the check and the withdrawal of the money from your checking account.

Protect Your Finances Against Check Fraud

You can avoid check fraud by making it harder for thieves to access your physical checks. But even if someone steals one of your checks, these tips can help you avoid becoming their next victim.

Be selective about drop-off times and locations.

If your outgoing mail contains checks, place envelopes in the collection box as close to the pick-up time as possible. Alternatively, plan on dropping them in the outgoing mail slot located inside a secured post office location.

Use permanent ink pens.

Oil or water-based inks can be removed with chemical solvents or simple friction. Instead of using ballpoint, rollerball, or felt-tip pens, only use permanent ink pens to write your checks. This makes it harder for fraudsters to alter the payee, amount, or other critical information on your check.

Monitor your checking account.

Frequently reviewing account statements can help you quickly identify potential check fraud. The sooner you report suspicious activity, the greater your chances of resolving the issue quickly.

If you suspect fraudulent activity related to your SAFE FCU account, contact us immediately at 800-763-8600.