Officials are looking to combat a growing fraudulent method where scammers steal, fake and forge mailed checks, and their efforts all start with the pen you use to mark your checks.
The Better Business Bureau issued an alert Wednesday against check washing, urging consumers to sign their checks only with black gel ink that is "indelible," or long-lasting.
Enduring black ink is difficult to clean off with household chemicals, making it a lot harder for scammers to erase the original name and dollar amount written on the check, according to the BBB. Regular blue or black pens typically contain dye-based ink that can be washed off easily, officials said.
The BBB estimates that check washing is a $815 million underground business that is expanding, affecting both consumers and corporations.
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"In an instant, your money can be gone," Steve Bernas, president and CEO of BBB, said in a statement. "A simple $25 birthday check can be converted into a $2,500 check."
The fraudulent practice often strikes unknowing victims, as scammers target unguarded or open-door mail boxes and trucks, especially near the holidays when mail starts to mount, the BBB said.
“Anyone who writes and mails a check is at risk," Bernas said.
For added protection against check washing, the BBB offered a few more tips consumers can utilize:
- Bring mail containing checks to a U.S. Post Office and deposit it inside
- Make payments online from a secure computer
- Pick up incoming mail right away
- Do not leave mail in your mailbox overnight
- Never leave outgoing mail in bank lobbies unsecured
- Do not deposit mail containing checks after the mailbox’s last pickup
- Check your bank account regularly
The BBB also encourages people to report scams to local law enforcement and the BBB ScamTracker.