What is old is new again. Many people continue to pay their household bills by paper check rather than electronic banking and even when shopping, some people prefer paying by check to using a credit card or cash. While there has been much discussion in the news about data breaches involving credit cards, the problems encountered through check washing, a process by which someone steals a check you have already written and “washes” or removes the name of the payee and changes the amount. The criminal then cashes your altered check and steals your money. This recently happened to the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization in Davenport, Iowa when a check the organization had written was intercepted and rewritten to pay to the criminals an amount ten times higher than the amount of the original check. It is a very simple thing for identity thieves to steal your check from your mailbox if you put it in an envelope to pay a bill and leave it in your mailbox outside your home for your mail carrier to pick up. Identity thieves also break into corner mail collection boxes and steal mail with checks from there too. Finally, rogue clerks at stores may steal your checks as well. It is then a simple thing to take ordinary bleach, acetone or other similar liquids to wash clean the name of the person to whom the check is made out as well as the amount of the check and then insert the identity thief’s name and a figure that would make you blush.
While businesses can protect themselves from check washing quite readily by using higher technology checks such as those containing three dimensional reflective metallic holostripes or checks treated with chemicals that will make the world “void” appear if the check is attempted to be altered, these are costly alternatives for individual people. Fortunately however, you are not powerless and the solution, in fact is quite simple. Instead of writing your checks using a common ball point pen, switch to a gel pen which is a common type of pen that you can buy anywhere, but whose ink will not vanish under chemical washes. Fountain pens also do not use the type of ink that can be readily washed, but the gel pen is simpler and easier to use. Another important thing to remember is to cross shred your personal documents including checks that you no longer need and are discarding. Identity thieves go through trash for their treasure including checks that they can use to make counterfeit checks using your account. Finally check your banks statements promptly after receiving them for signs of theft. If you do report checking account fraud more than thirty days after receiving your bank statement, the bank does not have to reimburse you for fraudulent, counterfeit checks.