Have you ever lost a check in the mail or sent one that was never received? It’s possible the check was stolen and used for check washing. Check washing is when fraudsters use chemicals to wash the ink off a check and alter the payee’s name or dollar amount.

In October 2023, the United States Postal Service reported that postal inspectors recover more than $1 billion in counterfeit checks and money orders yearly due to check washing. It’s more common than you’d think, so it is important to take preventative measures to ensure you don’t fall victim.

Here are five tips to protect yourself from check washing.

1. Pay Your Bills Online

  • Paying your bills online eliminates the need to mail out checks. Most banks or credit card companies give you the option to go paperless, meaning your monthly statements, payment reminders, and more are sent electronically via email or text message.
  • When paying friends or family for shared services like streaming platforms or household bills, some online payment methods like Zelle®, Venmo, or Cash App are user-friendly alternatives.
    • Additionally, paying your bills online can help avoid late fees because you’re not beholden to potential post office delays.
  • When making payments online, it’s important to make sure your connection is secure. Look for HTTPS in the website’s address to ensure it’s secure.
  • Secure websites have a lock or key icon indicating a website’s security certificate has been authenticated. Without this icon, you may be at risk of being on a fraudulent website.

2. Shred Sensitive Documents

  • Anytime you have a document containing sensitive information that is no longer needed, you should always shred it. Unfortunately, some fraudsters can look through the trash of others to find discarded checks to wash and alter.
  • If you receive any finance-related mail or credit card offers, you should always shred it to prevent the possibility of identity theft. 
  • If you don’t have a shredder at home, most banks or credit unions have shred bins. In fact, FirstBank hosts free community shred events throughout the year to help customers safely dispose of their sensitive documents.

3. Monitor Your Checks and Checking Accounts

  • If you closely monitor your accounts, you can quickly detect if someone has stolen one of your checks.
  • The sooner you report any fraudulent activity you’re experiencing, the sooner your bank can interfere to help safeguard your finances and personal information.
  • As added protection, you can enroll in Mobile Banking Alerts through Online Banking* to receive email or text notifications when your balance changes or transactions are made.
  • Some common alerts include Daily Balance, Withdrawal and Purchase, Security Alerts, and more. For additional information, read “6 Mobile Banking Alerts to Help Monitor Your Finance” at efirstbankblog.com.

4. Use Permanent Black Gel Ink Pens

  • If you can’t find an alternative, and still need to write a check, it’s helpful to use “indelible” or permanent ink. This ink type is irreversible and can’t be erased once it has been used. 
  • By writing your checks with this type of ink, you limit the possibility of your checks being altered.
  • You can find permanent black gel ink pens at Target, Walmart, Amazon or any office supply store.

5. Send Your Mail from the Post Office

  • To ensure fraudsters don’t gain access to your mail, avoid leaving envelopes containing checks in your mailbox or outdoor USPS collection boxes.
  • Visiting a post office to directly hand off your mail, adds a layer of protection knowing it will be sent out by a trusted representative.
  • Additionally, when visiting the post office, you can pay for Certified Mail®. This service requires a recipient signature upon delivery and as a sender, you can opt in for electronic verification when an item was delivered, or a delivery attempt was made.

As check washing becomes more frequent, it’s important to know how you can safeguard your checks to protect yourself, your finances, and your personal information. If you believe one of your checks, identification, or wallets are missing or stolen, immediately contact FirstBank at 1-800-964-3444.

Learn more by visiting our Fraud Prevention page at efirstbankblog.com.

Online Banking is free if enrolled for eStatements or $3.00/month for consumers and $10.00/month for business customers.

Zelle® and the Zelle® related marks are wholly owned by Early Warning Services, LLC and are used herein under license.

U.S. checking or savings account required to use Zelle®. Transactions between enrolled consumers typically occur in minutes.

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