Scam Alert: Check Washing
Check washing scams, in which fraudsters steal a check from a mailbox and "wash" it to alter the payee information and payment amount, are on the rise. Victims are often left unaware of the malicious activity until they see the fraudulent transaction on their statements, resulting in a loss of hundreds or thousands of dollars.
In this article, we share several tips to help you detect and avoid a financial loss from check washing and other check-related scams.
How the scam works
A fraudster begins by stealing letters, cards or other correspondence from your mailbox in hopes that these items contain a check. If the fraudster is successful in obtaining a check, they use a chemical solution to remove or wash common types of ink, enabling the fraudster to refill nearly any section of the check after it dries. The resulting fraudulent check is difficult to distinguish and often passes as legitimate by ATMs, remote deposit applications and sometimes, in-person tellers.
After the fraudulent check has been deposited, a fraudster will rapidly withdraw or wire the funds to another account before you can notice the erroneous payment. If you fall victim to check washing, you may not realize it until you spot the fraudulent transaction on your account statement.
How to detect check washing and other scams
The best defense against check-related scams is to be vigilant when reviewing your account statements. Below are a few additional tips to help you detect and avoid check washing fraud and other check-related scams:
- Review your account statements each month. If you are enrolled in an online banking service, like myTrustmark®, you can monitor account activity daily and setup alerts to be notified of any change to your account in real-time.
- Opt-in for eStatements as your statement delivery option. Your bank statement is delivered electronically, thereby reducing the risk of having a paper copy stolen from your mailbox.
- If you placed an order for checks and haven't received them or fear they may have been stolen, or you discover that your checkbook has been lost or stolen, immediately notify your financial institution and file a report.
- Use electronic payment methods instead of checks when possible, including direct deposit.
- Avoid mailing a check from your home mailbox. A raised flag on your mailbox can alert thieves of a potential opportunity.
- If you use an outdoor, secured postal box, place outgoing mail in it just before the day's last scheduled pickup so your items do not sit in the box overnight. Placing your mail in a US Post Office receptacle is the safest way to mail a check.