Mail Theft and Check Washing Schemes On The Rise

While we’re all staying vigilant about what links we’re clicking on and setting up multi-factor authentication on our devices, criminals have yet again surprised us by returning to a tried-and-true scam that we thought was nearly extinct – mail fraud.

The USPS has identified 22 different types of mail fraud, including everything from chain letters to work-from-home offers to phony inheritance schemes. But the most common type of fraud we’re seeing affecting the customer of Horicon Bank is far less sophisticated. We are seeing a rise in customers’ checks being stolen directly from their mailboxes or USPS blue collection boxes. And we’re not the only ones; banks across the state are reporting an increase in check fraud related to mail theft.

What could happen if your mailed check is stolen?

Criminals use a technique called “check washing” to erase your writing on the check. By using chemicals to erase the name of the payee or the amount of the check, criminals “wash” the check clean so they can rewrite it to a new payee at a new amount.

Imagine mailing out a check for $150 to pay your phone bill and finding it was cashed for $7000 paid out to someone you have never heard of. According to CBS News, nearly sixty individuals were arrested last year in Southern California on charges of stealing more than $5 million in check fraud from 750 people.

What can you do to prevent mail fraud and check washing?

The Wisconsin Bankers Association offers consumers tips to combat this type of mail fraud scheme:

  • Watch your bank account by reviewing statements and your online banking regularly. Report suspected fraud immediately.
  • Confirm receipt of checks sent through the mail with recipient.
  • Retrieve mail frequently and never leave your mail in your mailbox overnight.
  • When leaving outgoing mail in your mailbox, don’t put the flag up.
  • Deposit your outgoing mail in blue collection boxes right before the last pickup time or at your local post office.
  • If you’re going on vacation, have your mail held at the post office or have it picked up by a trusted friend or neighbor.
  • Talk to your bank about services they may have available to you such as online bill pay.

If you’re a Horicon Bank customer, we recommend starting with Ascend Digital Banking. If you’re not already enrolled, the enrollment process is simple. With Ascend, you can monitor your accounts 24/7 for any suspicious activity. You can even chat with a banker right from Ascend app if you have questions about your account.

Next, start sending payments using our online Bill Pay. Not only is Bill Pay convenient, allowing you to schedule payments and see past payments in one place, but it is more secure. Horicon Bank will make your scheduled payments either electronically or by printed check depending on the biller.

And one last (bonus!) tip – consider signing up for eStatements. Mail thieves aren’t just looking for checks to wash, they’re looking for any personal information to help accomplish their fraudulent schemes. Paper statements that can be easily stolen from your mailbox on delivery are a great place for criminals to gain valuable account information. eStatements, however, are secured with encryption technology, making them a much more secure way to view your account activity.

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