Keep your finances safe and secure: Essential tips for preventing check fraud

Check fraud itself isn't new, but it’s been on the rise and fraudsters are finding new ways to scam consumers with fraudulent checks. Get the latest information to help you protect yourself.

In this era of fast-moving technology and digital payments, it may be surprising that one of the biggest increases in financial fraud in recent months is coming from an old-fashioned scheme: check fraud. 

Though check fraud certainly isn’t a new phenomenon, there’s been a dramatic increase in this type of fraud over the last several years. According to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (also known as FinCEN), the annual volume of check fraud jumped by 84% to $815 million in the U.S. in 2022. 

One of the most common tactics driving this rise in check fraud is mail theft. Fraudsters are stealing mail, looking for checks, then selling these checks to others – sometimes on the dark web. FinCEN issued an alert earlier this year, warning about a nationwide surge in mail theft-related check fraud schemes. 

Here are some common methods a scammer might use to commit fraud with a stolen check:

Altering information on a check: A scammer may use common household chemicals to change the printed dollar amount and payee name on a check. This is sometimes called “check washing.” 

Forging endorsements and engaging in identity theft: Checks typically include a name and address information on them, and criminals may use that information to steal someone’s identity. A fraudster may even attempt to open a bank account to negotiate the check payable to the intended payee by forging the endorsement, and then go on to leverage that stolen identity to apply for credit products using the victims’ personal information. 

Creating counterfeit or duplicate checks: By using the information on the stolen check, fraudsters may further exploit the victim’s account information by creating additional counterfeit copies of the check.

What you can do to protect yourself from mail theft and check fraud

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help reduce your risk of getting taken advantage of by someone engaging in a mail theft-related check fraud scheme. Here are some tips to keep in mind to help protect yourself from check fraud when sending money to others: 

  • Pay digitally. Reduce the number of checks you send and utilize card or digital payment methods instead. Consider using Zelle® when sending money to family or friends, for example.
  • Use your bank to send checks on your behalf. If you do have to pay for something via check, see if your bank offers a bill pay service. Using this service will mean that the payment information will be printed onto a check, which makes it more difficult for a scammer to remove the information compared to a hand-written personal check.
  • Consider the type of check-writing pen you use. If you do write a check, make sure you're using a black gel pen. These types of pens have ink that’s more difficult to remove. 
  • Use mailboxes that are secure. If you need to send any checks by mail, use the mailbox inside of a USPS facility rather than at a curbside USPS mailbox or your residential outgoing mail. 
  • Keep your bank account information safe. Don’t share or post your bank account information anywhere publicly, and never share account information with anyone with whom you did not initiate the communication. Do not allow websites to save your routing/transit and account number information. 

With a little caution and know-how, you can avoid becoming the victim of a check fraud scam. 

 

Read more about ways to keep yourself and your loved ones safe from fraud and scams. 

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