Many of us on a regular basis write out checks to pay our monthly bills. We write the check, put it in an envelope, place it in our mailbox, and raise the flag to alert the mail carrier that we have outgoing mail. Have you ever considered that this can also be an alert to those who want to steal your identity, financial information and potentially empty your checking account?
Unfortunately, the criminal element is always hard at work to come up with new and ingenious ways of lining their pockets with your hard-earned money. One form of check fraud that we have experienced here in Dinwiddie County involved checks being stolen out of a mailbox, then “washed”, and rewritten. This is not something new; it happens frequently across the nation and has happened numerous times over the years here in Dinwiddie County. Here is how the process works.
Criminals ride through residential neighborhoods, often times around the first of the month. They look for mailboxes with their flags up indicating that that there is outgoing mail inside. In most cases, this happens between the times that the homeowner leaves for the day and when the mail carrier arrives to pick up the mail. The thief goes through the outgoing mail looking for apparent bills that are being paid. These could be utility bill payments, mortgage payments, or any other mail that may contain a check. Once the check is in their hands, this is when the fraud begins.
Most checks are filled in with ink pens; the ink from these pens stains the paper of the check where it is written and the blanks filled in. There is a chemical solution that is readily available at most hardware stores that the check is dipped in and it dissolves the ink and makes the check look like a blank check. The solution does not harm the check paper or the imprinting that is on the face of the check. This process is commonly known as “washing” the check. The solution quickly dries and the criminal has a clean blank check that is ready to be filled out and cashed.
Those who steal mail and present these altered checks could be facing multiple felony charges as well as federal charges from the Postal Inspectors. Here are a few tips to consider before you mail out payments by check again.
Consider making payments on line rather that mailing a check. If you pay your bills with a check, carry them to your local post office and put them in the mail slot in the lobby or hand them directly to your mail carrier. There have been incidents where thieves have actually been able to access the mail drop boxes outside of post offices after hours and steal letters containing checks. Never mail cash. This is just asking for trouble and there is no way to track the money if it does not make it to the intended recipient. If you are expecting to receive a check and don’t receive it contact the issuer immediately. The same thing could happen to checks in your incoming mail.
Check fraud is a big business to criminals. Follow these simple precautions to protect your hard-earned money. If you suspect you have been a victim of this type of fraud please make a report with the Sheriff’s Office as soon as possible.