Another day, another opportunity for crooks to steal your hard-earned money. And if you're still using the US Mail to mail checks, you could be putting yourself at risk.

Check Fraud on the Rise in the US

As you'd probably expect, the use of checks has declined dramatically in the last couple of decades. According to the Federal Reserve, Americans wrote close to 19 billion checks in 1990. That number dropped to roughly 3.4 billion in 2022.

But despite that dramatic decline in check usage, check fraud is on the rise throughout the United States. According to WIVB-TV, banks issued roughly 680,000 reports of check fraud to the Financial Cremes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) in 2022. That's almost double the 350,000 reports that were made in 2021.

Blame Check Washing for Increase in Fraud

Criminals are getting their hands on checks by targeting envelopes that appear to contain checks or those that appear to be bill payments. The most common type of fraud is "check washing" which is exactly what it sounds like. The recipient's name is erased (a practice known as melting ink) and a new recipient's name is written in. Criminals have also been known to increase the check's dollar amount.

And if you think dropping a check into a US Mailbox can safeguard you against the practice, think again. Criminals are getting ahold of checks by fishing them out of mailboxes.

It's not just individuals who are bad actors. Some of these criminals are part of sophisticated operations that have infiltrated post office distribution centers in order to steal mail.

While check-washing accounts for a significant amount of fraud, criminals also use victims' personal information to open new lines of credit.

What Can Consumers Do to Protect Themselves From Check Fraud?

Todd Robertson is a spokesperson for Argo Data, a financial data provider. He warns of the dangers of mailing checks by dropping them in a mailbox.

"If you need to mail a check, do not put a check in your residential mailbox and raise the flag to notify the postman," he says. "Drop off checks inside a post office if you have to."

Another layer of protection is to sign up for a bank's "positive pay" service with a business checking account. This means pre-authorizing checks for a certain amount and a check number to thwart criminals' ability to wash checks and make unauthorized withdrawals.

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