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Check Fraud Alert! Your Parents and Grandparents Probably Still Like Writing Checks.

Check Fraud is Happening More Often

Here’s How to Help Them Stay Safe!

Old habits are hard to break, especially for people who have done something a certain way all their lives. Like writing checks to pay bills or donate to a charity or worthy cause.

Check writing is a slower, traditional (and definitely old-school) payment method, but it’s for the most part reliable. It isn’t, however, fully safe from criminals if a check falls into the wrong hands.

And that seems to be happening more often these days.

If someone you know is still using a checkbook to make payments or send money to others, you need to read this and share this information with them. This isn’t about getting them to stop writing checks but taking precautions to prevent check fraud.

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Check fraud today.

If a criminal can get their hands on someone’s personal check, they can alter the check using a variety of methods and direct the payment to themselves. They can alter the information on check amount, so, for example a $50 donation to a charity becomes a $500 payment to a total stranger.

How does that happen? One method is called “check washing,” and it’s literally that. The criminal takes the stolen check, dunks it in a special solution that erases of the information that the account holder has written on the check. The crook then changes the name of the payee and the amount of the check.

As you might already know, a check today can be deposited in someone’s account using a smartphone these days and the bank’s app. Swindlers don’t even have to go into a bank to try to cash or deposit a stolen check.

This is a crime that is happening more frequently, and it’s important that anyone who writes a check is aware of the potential for check fraud.

Especially those who primarily prefer to make payments by checks.

Check fraud awareness needs to go way up.

Your parents/grandparents don’t have to stop writing checks or switch everything to electronic payments (that’s not reasonable to ask or expect); but you should encourage them to develop new check writing and check-depositing habits. (These tips are good for you too, for the occasional check you probably write yourself.

As long as people are still writing checks and as long as scammers are aware of it, the problem is likely to stick around and continue to grow.

Why? For two reasons:

  1. Check writing isn’t going to go away.
    Americans still wrote 11.2 billion (billion!) checks in 2022. It’s still how most people pay their cable bills, their taxes or their rent.
  2. Check fraud is up!
    The United States Federal Reserve announced that the reports of check fraud reached almost 700,000 in 2022, which was a dramatic uptick from the previous year.

Keep in mind, it’s not just about someone’s age. Check writing is still common for people who don’t want to make every payment online. Millions of people still will write a check to pay their utility bills, credit card payments, or even pay their gardener or a contractor who does work around the house.

Stamp Out Check Fraud! Check fraud prevention starts with how you fill out a check and send it.

Check fraud: how to avoid it.

Here is a list of ideas—a handful of simple, smart suggestions—for safeguarding the check-writing and check-paying processes that help reduce the chance of a criminal intercepting, stealing and forging a written check.

  1. Write checks using gel ink only.
    Here’s a tip probably few people think about that is using a gel ink pen only for check writing. Ink from a regular ballpoint pen is easier for a criminal to erase or obliterate. Security experts say gel ink in blue and black is close to permanent and not easy to remove. Buying and using gel ink pens to write a check is a low-cost way to help prevent check fraud that could cost a victim hundreds or thousands of dollars in just one instance.
  2. Write checks to companies or people you know and trust.
    If someone wants to donate to a charity, it should be one that is well-known and has a solid reputation, such as the Red Cross. Families can help friends do some basic research on the charity before sending a check. People should avoid, at all costs, mailing a check to a stranger or even to a strange company without doing some research in advance.
  3. Pay attention to your bank statements.
    People should look carefully at their bank statements each month. Especially review information about all checks written and cashed during the statement period. Better yet, everyone should set up an online banking account, if only to have the ability to check their checking account activity more often than once a month. That gives the account holder time to review the checks paid and verify the amounts.
  4. Set up automatic payments to write fewer checks.
    This is a great suggestion for seniors, not only because it is more secure, but it is a time saver. The fewer checks someone writes, the less chance of a check being stolen and of check fraud. Seniors might appreciate the ability to monitor their money more closely, more often.
  5. Fill out the check completely and thoroughly!
    This is a great suggestion for everyone who writes checks, even if infrequently. Take your time filling out the check, write large (using gel ink) and fill the check out completely. For instance, spell out the month instead of abbreviating (“December, not “Dec.” Or “June 6, 2023,” not “6/6/23.”) Write something in the memo line for what the check is for, as a safeguard, such as “To Joe S. for leaky faucet.” All this information and ink would help deter a criminal if the check fell into their hands. 
  6. Mail check payments at the post office for maximum safety. Don’t leave payments in your mailbox!
    Criminals look for home mailboxes with the “flag up,” indicating there’s a letter to be mailed out. That’s a huge risk if you’re sending out payments that way. Don’t do it.

Even the blue mailbox on the corner has some risk involved, although a lot less. Thieves will break into those two, even into those in front of a post office. Security professionals suggest that if you use a mailbox on the street that you make sure you’re in time for the next pickup time. Never leave a payment in a mailbox overnight, or over the weekend or holiday.

The best bet is to drop off your envelopes (and payments) to be mailed right at the post office itself, inside.

Stamp out check fraud.

Although online banking and digital payments seem secure, there’s still a lot of fraud there too. Technology doesn’t eliminate fraud. In many ways, it facilitates it. Which is why many people prefer to make payments the old-fashioned way.  Yet, as this article has pointed out, writing checks isn’t inherently safer and things can still go wrong.

However, by following the advice above, people can drastically reduce the possibility of 1) their checks falling into the wrong hands and 2) having a stolen check altered and eventually losing money.

Follow the Easy Prey podcast.

Chris Parker, CEO of WhatIsMyIPAddress.com, also hosts the Easy Prey podcast, where he talks to experts on important topics, from scams and fraud, to living with today’s technology. Sign up to follow his podcast.

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