Cybercriminals often use sophisticated technology to trick people into giving up their personal details or banking information. But some crooks prefer using older, less technologically advanced methods that still work. Tap or click for more information about an Amazon phishing scheme stealing passwords.
Instead of sending malicious text messages or phishing emails, these criminals take a pen-and-paper approach. According to law enforcement, stealing checks from mailboxes is increasing, and nobody is safe.
Read on to see how scammers commit these crimes and what you can do about it.
How criminals use check-washing techniques to rip you off
Leaving a check in the mailbox shouldn’t be a security risk. Unfortunately, that is precisely what is happening. According to the AARP, check fraud is skyrocketing as scammers remove them from mailboxes or use keys stolen from mail carriers. Sometimes they even use a string and sticky substance for fishing them out.
Once they get a check from a mailbox, criminals use cheap chemicals like bleach or acetone found in nail polish remover to erase the payee’s name and amount while leaving the signature intact.
“After drying, checks are rewritten for more money and deposited or cashed at banks, check-cashing businesses or stores that offer check-cashing services,” the AARP explains.
Here’s a quick video explaining the check-washing process.
Many of these criminals committed stimulus check fraud during the pandemic, and the reduction in postal budgets creates plenty of opportunities. For example, a New York resident recently had a $235 check altered to be $9,001. The check was cashed in only a few hours, and the victim lost their money.
How to avoid check fraud
Stories of check fraud are frightening. Fortunately, there are ways to ensure your money is safe.
Here are six ways to protect against check fraud.
Pay your bills online. “As long as you’re not on a public Wi-Fi connection, paying bills online is safer than a check through the mail,” says Amy Nofziger, AARP’s director of fraud victim support. One reason is your bank account and the payment systems for your bills are encrypted.
Deliver your mail to a post office. Don’t leave envelopes containing checks in your mailbox or outdoor USPS collection boxes after the last pickup time. Your best bet is to take your letter to the nearest post office during business hours and either hand it to a clerk or slide it through an outgoing mail slot inside the building.
Use a pen with blue or black non-erasable gel ink. Gel ink soaks into the paper and may be more difficult to remove than ballpoint pen ink.
Don’t let delivered mail sit in your mailbox. Collect your mail daily, as close to the delivery time as possible. If you’ll be away, ask a trusted friend to gather it or have the post office hold it until you’re back home.
Monitor your bank account. Don’t wait for your monthly statement. Go online every few days to review account balances and look at checks drawn against them.
Report incidents quickly. Contact your bank as soon as possible after suspicious activity. Banks are generally required to replace funds stolen via fraudulent checks, but only if the scam is reported within 30 days of the date of your bank statement. Also, contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and credit reporting agencies.
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