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BBB Alerts Consumers to "Check Washing" Fraud

BBB Alerts Consumers to “Check Washing” Fraud

For Scammers, it’s a Blank Check to Steal Money!

Rockford, IL – Sept. 21, 2022 – BBB is alerting consumers to sign checks only with indelible black ink after a growing trend in what authorities call “check washing.” Scammers can take you to the cleaners by washing checks in a simple bath of household chemicals to erase the original name and dollar amount written on the check.

Dennis Horton, director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau says, “Scammers wash and then write in any name and any sum of money they want, cash it, and in an instant, your money can be gone. The process leaves a blank space where the “Pay to” name and dollar amount used to be. A simple $25 birthday check can be converted into a $2,500 check. Experts estimate it’s a $815 million business and growing.“

At the core of the process, thieves steal mail, removing any found checks. Many opportunities exist from people leaving up flags on mailboxes signaling scammers of opportunity, to unguarded or open-door mail trucks. Single-family homes often have an unlocked mailbox mounted near the front door, and some multi-resident dwellings expose incoming or outgoing mail. In some cases, thieves get access to mailbox keys.

Fraudsters have also been known to reach inside of U.S. Postal Service mailboxes, especially on Sundays or holidays when mail builds up. They will also look for envelopes with the feel and shape of cards and seek credit card and utility envelopes that obviously contain bill payments. It happened to a BBB employee. Thieves removed a stamped envelope out of a U.S. Post Office blue mailbox, altered the check amount and stole $9,200.

Victims often have no idea there is a problem until someone they sent a check to indicates the check was never received, or they see a check written to someone or some company they do not know. Monitor your bank account frequently.

“Even businesses are now being impacted,” Horton adds. “Anyone who writes and mails a check is at risk.”

BBB Tips on how to avoid check-washing scams
  • Use a pen that contains indelible black gel ink to write your checks. This type of ink cannot be washed away.
  • Avoid regular blue ink or black ink pens. These contain dye-based ink that can easily be washed away.
  • Bring mail containing checks to a U.S. Post Office and deposit it inside.
  • Pay your bills online from a secure computer.
  • Get your incoming mail right away. Do not leave it in your mailbox overnight.
  • Never leave your outgoing mail in the lobby unsecured. Anyone could pick it up, not just the postal clerk.
  • Do not deposit mail containing checks after the mailbox’s last pickup. Crooks tend to steal mail at night.

About BBB:
BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois is a nonprofit organization that has served both consumers and trustworthy businesses for over 95 years and is a part of the IABBB. We help protect consumers from scams and provide a free database for consumers to see business ratings and reviews to find businesses they can trust.

The International Association of Better Business Bureaus (IABBB) is the network hub for BBBs in the US, Canada and Mexico. Like BBBs, IABBB is dedicated to fostering honest and responsive relationships between businesses and consumers -- instilling consumer confidence and advancing a trustworthy marketplace for all. Please visit BBB.org for more information
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