I recently wrote about why we should avoid using checks, but I forgot to mention an old favorite of scam artists: Check washing.

Check washing refers to the practice of using chemicals, usually nail polish remover, to erase the ink on a check. Of course, that allows the crook to pen in whatever amount and payee they want. And depending on your agreement with your bank, you may be out the money for good.

Banks generally require you to fill out an affidavit as part of the process of recovering your stolen funds. It really varies according to bank or agreement, but we, as consumers, will be evaluated to see if we took the proper care to safeguard the check. From what I understand, this can be a formidable hurdle to overcome.

That said, the bank also bears a responsibility for accepting the check.

How do scammers get access to our checks? One method is to look in residential mailboxes that have the flag up. It’s disturbingly common for the blue, USPS mailboxes to be burgled. I found some press releases from the USPS, and they claim to be increasing the security of the blue boxes.

But let’s say you actually want fewer chances for your mail to be intercepted — you can always drop it off at the post office itself. It’s an extra schlep, but this is the world we live in.

There are also things you can do when writing out the check. Evidently ball-point pens are especially susceptible to being washed away. Experts recommend using a gel pen or a fountain pen (if you know how to do that). It’s also a good idea to leave no space unmarked on the check, specifically in the payee and amount fields.

There was a 7% increase in check fraud from 2022 to 2023. Now’s the time to consider going digital with your bill paying. As I wrote about, the banks have perfected the art of bill paying, and there is virtually no risk for error. Notice I said virtually!

For help figuring out all of this stuff, contact our team.