While the latest cyber scams always seem to grab the headlines, check theft fraud is back in big way.
According to a recent AP News article, mail-related check fraud has doubled since 2021—up to nearly 700,000 reported incidents to Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) last year.
Criminals target postal boxes, as well as personal mailboxes, to snag issued checks, wash them clean, and either cash the check themselves, or sell the washed checks over the dark web using social media platforms.
By literally “fishing" for mail (i.e., dropping a line coated with a sticky substance) into a postal box, these criminals can quickly clean out a blue box and come away with dozens of checks from unsuspecting victims. They sometimes also steal mail drop “arrow keys" from postal employees to access the box directly. In fact, CBS News reports that the USPS has seen an increase in attacks on mail carriers and mail fraud incidents the first half of 2023. The rise in crime against mail carriers heightens the risk of check theft.
After removing the ink from the stolen checks with nail polish remover, another old trick, the crooks simply alter the payee and amount information and can walk away with hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Fraudsters often opt to make counterfeit checks with the information on the check fished as well. All the information needed to produce a new check is already on the item taken from the mailbox. They simply forge the signature.
These criminals can also sell or use the personal information from the check to steal a victim's identities, which leads to even further problems for those impacted.
Financial institutions are very good about covering these losses for their members. But don't forget about the greater risk of identity theft that is also inherent in this type of fraud.
The best way not to fall victim is to avoid sending checks by mail when you can. If you do need to mail a check, opt to drop it directly in the mail collection bin inside the post office lobby.
Many financial institutions also offer customers the option to send money electronically—at no additional charge.
WPCU's Online and Mobile Bill Pay is one way to cut down on the number of checks you need to mail. It's a simple, secure, and time-saving way to take care of recurring bills. Just set up your payees and schedule one-time or recurring payments.
However, if you think a check you've written was intercepted in the mail, contact your financial institution right away, and file a report with the Postal Inspection Service as well as your local police department.
For more WPCU fraud and cybersecurity resources, visit