How to foil check washing fraud before it costs you thousands

Nina Pineda Image
Friday, March 17, 2023
How to foil check washing fraud before it costs you thousands
How to avoid check washing fraud and mail your checks in the mail safely.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A trending bank fraud called check washing starts when a scammer steals your check - out of the mail - then uses chemicals to "wash" off the ink, fills in their own name and cashes it -- cleaning out your bank account.

7 On Your Side's Nina Pineda fought the fraud and contacted some of the country's largest banks to get the money back.

Carol Perlman is of a generation who balances her checkbook and writes paper checks for all her bills. On November 17, she wrote out a check to pay off her AmEx balance, mailed it from her Upper East Side Building, but by the time it cashed it was more than 13 times the amount she wrote it for -- and made out to a complete stranger.

The original amount was $656 but was cashed for $9,000.

Across the park on the Upper West Side, freelance TV Producer Matt Schick is a Gen Z-er who mostly banks online.

Renovating a new apartment with his wife, the newlywed wrote a check to one of his contractors and mailed it from the street mailbox -- steps from the WABC studio.

"I live right across from ABC, I put it right in the mailbox, two days later it was cashed I was like this is strange," Schick said.

It was cashed, but not by his electrician. The name had been scratched out and changed to Jennifer someone who got $7,500 out their joint account.

"After this experience I'll never mail a check again," Schick said.

Both reported the fraud to their banks immediately after catching it.

Carol says when she first contacted Citizens Bank, it said no problem, her money would be returned, but then later said it didn't think the check was altered.

Matt has been ping-ponging between his bank, Chase, and the Bank of America, which cashed the forged check.

"It's been 130 days since I did the report with Chase and there's been nothing done," Schick said.

Both had something else in common -- they had relatives send them a 7 On Your Side story where we helped a veteran recover $7,000 after his check was stolen, washed and forged.

We began working with all the banks. Citizens returned Carol's $9,000 within days.

Matt's case took weeks to resolve -- but both banks apologized and we got his $7,500 back.

Some big takeaways are to use the right pen. A black gel pen with indelible ink seeps into the check's fibers, making check washing more difficult.

And if you can, mail it at the post office -- avoid using stand-alone boxes since scammers can fish for checks.

And check your checks. Go online and make sure your check clears and take an extra step and click on the check's image to make sure it hasn't been forged.

And if you are a victim, report it immediately to the USPS.

ALSO READ | 7 On Your Side breaks down how to avoid the top 7 tax-related scams

7 On Your Side's Nina Pineda has the top seven tax scams and the ways to avoid them. Nina Pineda has the story.



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