How to Spot Check Fraud

Check Washing

Check washing involves criminals stealing checks from mailboxes and changing the name of the payee to their own and often increasing the amount on the check. These scammers use chemicals found in most household cleaning products to erase the ink used to fill out the check and then rewrite whatever they want. We have a few tips for how to spot check fraud to help prevent becoming a victim of check washing:

  • Do not place outgoing mail in your mailbox with the flag up. Hand your mail to the mail carrier, place it in a secure USPS mailbox before the last pickup, or bring it into the Post Office.
  • Check your bank account on a regular basis for unusual activity. If you catch something quick enough, it can be helpful in restoring funds and potentially catching the criminal.
  • Use gel pens instead of ball point pens, as it is harder to wash this ink off. Also, place your numbers close together when writing, to avoid leaving space where a criminal could add in another digit easily.
  • Use security envelopes with patterned lining that prevents someone from seeing what is inside.
  • Use online bill pay when possible. This affords you the most security from check washing by eliminating the check entirely.

Other Types of Check Scams

Mystery shopping or personal assistant: Scammers will pretend to hire people as mystery shoppers or personal assistants. The criminals instruct their new hires to purchase gift cards. The shopper or assistant gets a check with instructions to use that to purchase gift cards to send to someone else or use that money to wire it to another account. Once the money is sent, the person on the other end disappears, essentially using you as a middleman to launder the money and being left with the loss.

Claiming prizes: Sweepstake’s “winners” are given fake checks and told to send money back to cover taxes or shipping and handling charges. However, that is not how legitimate sweepstakes work and you should never have to pay anything upfront for something you have won.
Overpayments: This is common when buying something online. A scammer will send you a check for more than the asking price and then ask you to refund the overpayment. Odds are the check is fake and you are repaying them with real money and will be left owing the loss when the check is returned as fraudulent.

Spotting a Fake Check and What to Do

  • Check for misspellings, if the company the check is coming from exists and if it resides in the city and town the check claims and the maker name makes sense for the reason you should be receiving the check (i.e. the maker of the check is a construction company from out of state when you believe you obtained a job being a secret shopper for a retail store).
  • Hold the check up to the light to see if you can see indentations from other writing, as this can be a sign of a washed check.
  • If logos are faded, that is a sign the check has been copied. Also, if there is no perforated edge on one side of the check, odds are it was printed and could be a fake.

If you are suspicious of a check you received, do not cash it. Call the bank from which the check was issued to verify it is valid. Get the number from a source you trust, rather than the website or phone number listed on the check as that could also be fake. You can also seek guidance from your financial institution as the staff is trained to detect counterfeit checks.

How We Can Help

Cornerstone Bank has solutions for both individuals and businesses to help deter check fraud. We offer online banking and bill pay, which can automatically pay bills online for you directly from your account. This eliminates the need to send checks in the mail. For our business customers, we offer Positive Pay, the leading fraud prevention solution that will help protect your business from fraudulent checks being presented for payment.

Contact us to learn more about how to spot check fraud.