Check Washing is Big Business Again

All it took was a pandemic for check washing to become big business again. With everyone afraid to go out people started paying bills by mail. All of those stimulus checks were just too tempting for criminals as well. They are so addicted to the scam they are now robbing Postal workers to get mailbox keys.

I really thought this would be coming to an end. I mean there was that great scene in White Collar where Neal demonstrated check washing on the stand in court. He did it to prove a bottle of chemical was what he thought. The reason I thought it was gone was that was a pretty talked about scene, watching ink float off the check. Everyone should be on their guard.

GEL ink

This was to be the average Jane and Joe solution to check washing. GEL ink actually penetrates the paper and is very difficult to “wash” off with fingernail polish remover. You can now get a dozen such pens in a standard office supply store for $15 or less. Slightly nicer ones can be found for around $20/dozen. We were all supposed to use them for check writing.

Trouble is we didn’t. Well, we tried, but the trouble is pens keep walking off and you grab whatever is handy when you need to write a check.

We are also a lazy bunch. We mail checks in the mailbox at the end of our lane/drive or just drop the envelops into an “outgoing mail” tray at work. It’s usually on the reception desk to make things easy for the Postal worker. Any hoodlum can snag a few items out of it when someone has the receptionist distracted.

Business was supposed to switch

There is absolutely no excuse for a check issued by any federal or state agency to be washable. Volume check printers are supposed to be using MICR toner with high adhesion to make extremely difficult to scrape or wash. Yes, that stuff is pricey, but so is the cost of check washing fraud.

Hey, most people with a bank account getting government benefits of any kind opt for direct deposit. The COVID-19 stimulus checks had to be issued to people who didn’t have bank accounts on file with the IRS which meant a lot of checks for scam artists to dust off their check washing skills on.

Turns out many companies still get pre-printed checks then run them through a regular printer so they are easy targets for washing.

Postal worker robberies

Postal workers are now being robbed at gunpoint for keys. It’s not just a Chicago thing, it’s an every big city thing. Some of the thieves just fish in the mailboxes with sticky things and string/rags.

Others use the keys (or some other method) to clean out the apartment mailboxes.

Those central boxes were instituted as a convenience for postal workers and a building security measure. It might be time to reconsider having the postal worker shove mail through a slot in each apartment don’t you think?

The IQ and style challenged just take the entire box.

You will note they used a minivan or SUV with glass all around, not a cargo van where everyone walking past couldn’t accidentally see a mailbox in the back.

Check washing deeper worry

Law enforcement has issued multiple statements that much of this check washing has been industrialized by the criminal underworld. Criminals are pairing your washed check with your identity they bought for pennies on-line and gaining access to your checking account to see the current balance. These washed checks with the identity and balance information are then being sold to other underworld figures. They know exactly how much they can clear out with your washed check.

Worse yet, with your identity they can purchase a big ticket item, like an automobile, using your check to make the down payment, then sell the vehicle to someone else that same day. How about if they decide to flip a house with your identity and washed check and keep the money from the sale leaving you with the note? That $815 million dollar estimate the BBB puts out seems small when you consider what the big players can really nail you for.

Protecting yourself

Outbound mail trays must cease to exist

Yes, that tray at work or your bank is convenient. The problem is, your mail is exposed. When I was under contract at the Chicago Stock Exchange an office thief was busted for rummaging through people’s desks and coats for money. He worked part time as a pizza delivery person to case offices. People would leave him unattended and he would wander around gathering whatever cash he could. Sometimes he would come back with a clip board and hard hat if the office had work going on. Do you really believe someone who would go that far wouldn’t just lift bill payment envelops from a tray?

Never put anything with a check in one of these trays.

Take your mail to U.S. Post Office and mail inside

Yes, it sucks. Most Post Offices are leaving the PO Box lobby open and on the wall is a slot for you to deposit outbound mail. Use it. When people are carting the blue boxes off they just aren’t safe. Neither is the mailbox at the end of your lane.

Have someone pick up your mail as soon as it is delivered

Admit it, we all do it, you pick up your mail when you get home after work. If you are in an apartment sometimes you wait 2-3 days before picking up your mail. If you are getting checks you just can’t do that anymore.

You need a financial computer

I’m really stunned at the number of people with good incomes who don’t do this. For $300 or less you can pick up a used laptop or desktop on eBay. This does not have to be a high end machine. What it does have to be is dedicated to financial transactions. You also have to keep up on your virus protection updates, even if you are using Linux.

You do not surf the Web, read email, or anything else with this computer! It has all of your bank, brokerage, and retirement account information. Turn it off when you are not using it. Manually apply updates at regular intervals. Pay as many bills online as you can with this computer to reduce the number of checks you have to send through the mail.

Far too many people try to do everything on their Imbecile Phone, the most insecure device ever made. Read up on Bluebugging.

Use this computer to check your bank account regularly. If you see the same check number you just sent to the electric company for $85 suddenly taking thousands out of your account, make a panicked phone call to your bank and stop the clearing process.

If you use financial software like Quicken to manage your budget and bills, it needs to be on this computer only.

Use a GEL ink pen for all of your checks actually tested many GEL ink pens for washing. Honestly, if their Web site is correct, the sub $3 price for a Gelly Roll pen isn’t a high price to pay for paranoia. If you read that lengthy article you will also find fountain pen ink that they tested against check washing. You don’t have to go to extremes. You can purchase a 4-pack of Uni-ball Gel pens for under $7 at Staples.

Always use black ink to write a check! It’s the most difficult to wash out.

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