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Protect Yourself from Check Washing

By May 1, 2024May 28th, 2024Tips

If you mail a check that doesn’t reach the recipient, check washing – a form of check fraud – may be a possible reason it doesn’t get to its intended destination. 

Even though more people are using electronic payment methods, checks are still widely used and frequent targets for criminal activity. In fact, more than 680,000 cases of check fraud were reported last year by federal authorities, which was nearly double the previous year’s amount. 

Criminals use brazen methods, such as stolen master keys and homemade tools, to steal checks dropped off in USPS blue collection boxes, residential mailboxes, cluster boxes found at apartments and commercial buildings. 

What is Check Washing? 

Check washing happens when a check is stolen and then altered. The term ‘washing’ was coined because chemicals like bleach or acetone are used to ‘wash’ the ink off the check. The crook then changes the payee’s name and dollar amount and steals money from the bank account by fraudulently depositing the washed check. Some scammers even use copiers or scanners to print fake copies of the check. 

Tips for Outsmarting Check Washers 

  1. Use caution with blue collection boxes. If you’re going to use a USPS blue collection box to deposit your outgoing mail, do so right before the last pickup of the day. Consider dropping your outgoing mail at the post office instead. 
  2. Don’t leave mail in your mailbox for long periods of time. Retrieve your mail frequently, and don’t leave it sitting overnight. If your office will be closed for an extended amount of time, have the post office hold your mail. 
  3. Stop using checks altogether. Consider using electronic bill pay, direct bank transfers or peer-to-peer payment apps instead of checks. Encourage employees to sign up for direct deposit in lieu of receiving paper checks. 
  4. Use the right pen. While businesses typically issue printed or typewritten checks, there’s always the possibility that a handwritten check will be needed occasionally. Certain pens may make it harder for criminals to wash ink off. Black gel ink is said to resist check washing by forming a strong bond with paper. 

If you suspect that someone has stolen a check, contact your bank immediately. In addition, review your accounts frequently to look for unusual activity or withdrawals. 

MarathonHR strives to keep our clients informed about fraudulent activities and scams that can cost your business time and money. Our comprehensive payroll services can help you eliminate the need to generate paper paychecks, and we can provide counsel on other ways to protect your business from theft and fraud. 

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