What is check washing?
Check washing is a type of fraud that occurs when a stolen check is treated with a chemical formula to remove its ink or “wash the check.” Then the check is rewritten with a higher amount, addressed to a new payee, and deposited. In most cases, checks are stolen from the mail before they are washed and rewritten.
How can I prevent one of my checks from being washed?
You can help prevent check washing by using indelible gel black ink, mailing your checks at the post office instead of personal or USPS blue mailboxes, setting limits on your account, and paying your bills online.
How do criminals steal checks?
Most checks are stolen in the mail, from personal and official blue USPS mailboxes. Check thieves gain access to the blue USPS mailboxes by robbing postal workers of their master keys or buying stolen keys online for $800 - $2,500 (Struett, Check fraud spikes: Chicago sees jump in checks stolen from mailboxes, ‘washed’ and cashed for thousands of dollars, 2022). Since September, 39 postal workers in Chicago have been robbed of their master keys (Knowles & Pistone, 2022).
How do criminals wash stolen checks?
Thieves treat stolen checks with household chemicals to erase their ink, then sell the washed check online or rewrite the check with a higher amount to themselves (Struett, More ‘check washing’ victims speak out as officials press Postal Service to address rising fraud, 2022).
How common is check washing?
Check washing is on the rise in Illinois, with over 17,000 cases reported from the start of 2022 through October (Associated Press, 2022), a 31 percent increase since 2021 and over 200 percent increase since 2014 (TRC Staff, 2022). The rise of check washing in Chicago is part of a larger organized crime: Mail thieves sell washed personal and business checks online for hundreds of dollars, sometimes along with the personal information of their victims (Struett, More ‘check washing’ victims speak out as officials press Postal Service to address rising fraud, 2022). The funds from selling stolen checks and identities then are often used to fund gangs and criminal activity.
What are some recent examples of local USPS postal fraud?
- Norridge – Two thieves were caught on camera stealing from official USPS mailbox, located outside the town’s police station (Chronis, 2022).
- Elmhurst – A postal worker was charged with stealing over 100 checks, totaling over $40,000, from his mail route (ABC7 News, 2022).
- Harwood Heights – A man stealing from an official USPS mailbox was caught on camera (McNicholas, 2022).
- Edison Park – A man reported his mailed check was washed and rewritten (Struett, More ‘check washing’ victims speak out as officials press Postal Service to address rising fraud, 2022).
- Little Italy – Mail was stolen from official blue USPS mailboxes at Taylor and Loomis Streets and Laflin and Flournoy Streets (Struett, Check fraud spikes: Chicago sees jump in checks stolen from mailboxes, ‘washed’ and cashed for thousands of dollars, 2022).
What are additional check washing prevention measures?
- Check your online, mobile, or mailed statements regularly for altered checks.
- Sign up for online banking and enable Bill Pay to pay your bills online.
- Download CSB Chicago Mobile Banking and enable Bill Pay to make payments from your phone.
- Write your checks with an indelible gel black ink pen, which makes it harder to remove from checks (NBC5 Chicago, 2022).
- Mail your checks at the post office, not your personal mailbox or an official blue USPS mailbox.
- Pick up mail right when it arrives, instead of letting it sit and pile up.
- Drop mail off right before it is picked up, if you have to use a blue USPS mailbox.
- Sign up for e-Statements to view your statement online instead of receiving a paper copy by mail.
- Look out for past due notices and checks that haven’t cleared in a timely manner.
- Add a credit freeze with the three reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion) to prevent criminals from applying for credit with your personal information.
- Enroll in USPS Informed Delivery so you can expect when your mail will be delivered.
- Set limits on your checking account and use mobile banking to send yourself alerts.
- Shred old checks.
What do I do if I am a victim of check washing?
- File a police report.
- Report it to the Postal Inspection Service at (877) 876-2455.
- File an online complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (FDIC, 2019).
- Call your bank; Reach Community Savings Bank at (773) 685-5300.
What is Community doing to prevent check washing?
To protect our customers, the bank reviews checks for noticeable alterations, with special attention paid to the payee and dollar amount of the checks. If check washing is suspected, one of our staff will notify the customer to confirm the check’s legitimacy.
ABC7 News. (2022, November 10). Elmhurst postal worker charged with stealing over 100 checks worth $40K from mail along his route. Retrieved from ABC7 Chicago: https://abc7chicago.com/elmhurst-il-news-stolen-mail-checks/12438831/
Associated Press. (2022, October 18). Editorial Roundup: Illinois. Retrieved from U.S. News & World Report: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/illinois/articles/2022-10-18/editorial-roundup-illinois
Chronis, K. (2022, August 31). Norridge residents warned of check washing scheme, mail thefts from USPS boxes. Retrieved from FOX 32 Chicago: https://www.fox32chicago.com/news/norridge-residents-warned-of-check-washing-scheme-mail-thefts-from-usps-boxes
FDIC. (2019, August 26). FDIC Consumer News: Beware of Fake Checks. Retrieved from FDIC: https://www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/news/august2019.html
Knowles, J., & Pistone, A. (2022, November 11). Thieves steal checks from mail, use check washing tactics to alter them and steal thousands. Retrieved from ABC7 Chicago: https://abc7chicago.com/stolen-check-mail-washing-fraud/12442648/
McNicholas, T. (2022, August 30). Mail thieves strike in Norridge and Harwood Heights, leaving at least 40 victims. Retrieved from CBS Chicago: https://www.cbsnews.com/chicago/news/mail-thieves-strike-in-norridge-and-harwood-heights-leaving-at-least-40-victims/
NBC5 Chicago. (2022, September 21). Here's What Color Ink You Should Use to Sign Your Checks to Avoid Fraud, According to BBB. Retrieved from NBC5 Chicago: https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/heres-what-color-ink-you-should-use-to-sign-your-checks-to-avoid-fraud-according-to-bbb/2946010/
Struett, D. (2022, October 12). Check fraud spikes: Chicago sees jump in checks stolen from mailboxes, ‘washed’ and cashed for thousands of dollars. Retrieved from Chicago Sun-Times: https://chicago.suntimes.com/crime/2022/10/12/23343310/check-fraud-washing-mail-postal-service-usps-bank-fraud
Struett, D. (2022, October 12). More ‘check washing’ victims speak out as officials press Postal Service to address rising fraud. Retrieved from Chicago Sun-Times: https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/2022/10/12/23400908/check-washing-fraud-postal-service-stolen-mail
TRC Staff. (2022, October 12). Chicago Experiences Spike in Check Fraud, Stolen From Mailboxes. Retrieved from The Crime Report: https://thecrimereport.org/2022/10/12/chicago-experiences-spike-in-check-fraud-stolen-from-mailboxes/