Feds warn of ‘surge’ in check washing scams

US postal inspectors recover $1 billion in counterfeit money orders and checks each year
Published: Aug. 7, 2023 at 2:19 PM CDT
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(InvestigateTV) — The number of check fraud cases reported by banks in 2022 was more than 680,000, nearly double the 350,000 reported the year prior, according to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network

This surge comes even as fewer people use paper checks, according to a new warning issued by the U.S. Treasury Department.

Michael Joyce, with the financial firm Agili, said check washing is an old trick used by scammers.

“Fraudsters will literally steal mail out of your mailbox. I’ve seen stories where letter carriers have been attacked to get the keys for the mailboxes,” Joyce said. “Even putting checks in a box in front of a bank branch is not safe.”

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) said scammers will steal signed checks from the mail and use chemicals to wipe out the dollar amount, increasing it to a larger figure. They’ll then wash away the recipient’s name on the check and make it payable to a fake identity before cashing it.

USPIS reported recovering more than $1 billion in counterfeit checks and money orders each year. They shared several ways consumers can protect themselves:

Avoid mailing checks

Only drop mail in blue boxes during pickup hours – do not let you check sit in the box overnight

Set up direct payments for accounts in lieu of using checks

If you suspect possible check washing, report the information to local police and file a report with the Postal Inspection Service.