When you need to exchange money with a friend, how do you do it? Apps like Venmo, Paypal and Cash App are fairly mainstream in 2024. Many traditional banks in the United States use Zelle. Even with these options at our fingertips, there are still people who chose to use paper checks. 

If you’re handing the check directly to the person who’s going to cash it, that feels like a secure transaction. But if you’re dropping one in the mail to give as a gift for something like a birthday, wedding, graduation or other occasion you can’t attend in person? You may be putting yourself at risk for fraud. 

Criminals are keenly aware that people are still mailing checks as gifts or to pay bills. In May 2023, the United States Postal Service and United States Postal Inspection Service teamed up for an initiative called “Project Safe Delivery” after noticing a troubling increase in the number of mailboxes being targeted by thieves and the number of their letter carriers being robbed on their routes. Even with the initiative in place, the Associated Press reported that the number of carriers robbed while on duty rose more than 30% to 643 in 2023. 

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These thieves may steal the mail the worker is carrying or try to get their hands on the carrier’s “arrow key” which unlocks secure mailboxes. Often, these criminals are looking through the mail for…you guessed it…checks.

Signing A Check
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A follow-up to May’s “Project Safe Delivery” release was issued in October and revealed that one of the hardest hit areas for these crimes included San Francisco. SFGate reports that the crimes have spread from Oakland and San Francisco to other areas like Antioch, San Ramon, Pittsburg, Vallejo and Walnut Creek. 

How Are Thieves Getting Money from Stolen Checks?

There’s a whole page on the United States Postal Inspection Service’s website dedicated to a scam called “check washing.” They track the original scam back to a group of meth addicts who realized that if you soaked a check in a certain chemical, handwritten ink would come right off. The 10 men that were part of the crime ring also got their hands on blank temporary driver’s licenses which they used to make fake IDs. They filled out those washed checks and used the fake identities to steal thousands of dollars from the people who originally mailed the checks. 

A Male Hand Filling Out The Amount On A Cheque

US Postal Inspector, Troy Sabby, explained that in some cases, the victims were trying to mail checks to their nephews or grandkids as birthday gifts. The kids never got them, thinking their family members forgot their birthday. The criminals? Well, they used that birthday money and more to continue to purchase illegal drugs. 

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The Better Business Bureau says that the pen you write checks with could make a difference. They suggest using a pen with long-lasting black “gel ink.” You know, the type of ink that’s darn near impossible to get out of your clothes or carpet. 

Meanwhile in Idaho…

While the crime statistics in Idaho are much lower than the Bay Area cities we previously mentioned, the Gem State isn’t safe from check fraud. Back in 2019, three Canyon County residents were sentenced for their role in a check forgery scheme that resulted in their victims losing a collective $32,000. As part of their plea deal, the victims admitted that they had stolen checks from mailboxes, changed themselves to the payee and increased the amount of the check. 

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In 2022, a woman in Kootenai County said that a $638.17 check made out to her dead parents was stolen from her mail. They tracked that back to a postal worker who stole the check and admitted to depositing the check and withdrawing some of the funds associated with it. 

What To Do If You Absolutely Have to Mail a Check

First of all, use the type of pen suggested above to write the check in the first place. The United States Postal Service hasn’t issued an official statement but does suggest bringing envelopes containing checks into a secure post office, rather than dropping them in a blue box or leaving it in your own mailbox.

The Better Business agrees and suggests that if that’s not possible, you make sure you don’t drop a check in one of the blue boxes AFTER the final pick-up of the day.

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