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Consumer alert: NYS DCP provides tips to avoid check-washing scams


Tue, Jan 23rd 2024 03:15 pm

Avoid mailing checks from public collection boxes to protect yourself from fraud

Submitted by the New York State Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection

The New York State Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection is providing consumers with guidance to avoid mail theft and check-washing schemes.

During check-washing schemes, thieves steal checks – often in bulk from U.S. Postal Service mail collection boxes – and use common chemicals like nail polish remover to erase (or “wash”) the payee and dollar amount while preserving the check’s original signature. These scammers can then profit from making checks out to themselves or selling the stolen, signed blank checks.

According to the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the number of check fraud crimes nationwide surged in 2020 and has worsened each year since. In 2022, FinCEN received over 680,000 suspicious activity reports related to check fraud, almost twice the number recorded in 2021.

“People may not be writing as many paper checks, but check fraud is still a serious issue because check-washing scams can cost consumers hundreds to even thousands of dollars – and the fraudulent charges can take weeks to reverse,” Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez said. “To protect against having your bank account emptied, I encourage New Yorkers to follow our tips to protect themselves and their businesses.”

Daniel B. Brubaker, inspector in charge of the New York division said, “When thieves violate the sanctity of the mail, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service will spare no resource to bring these nefarious individuals to justice for their crimes. Our persistence in investigating these crimes, along with recent enhancements to USPS equipment and other prevention efforts, are the many ways we ensure the public’s trust in the U.S. mail.”

Follow these tips to avoid mail theft and check-washing scams:

Tips To Avoid Check-Washing

√ Go directly to the post office to drop off your mail: When using a blue collection box, try to do so before the last pickup of the day to minimize the amount of time the check spends in the box.

√ Check your mailbox frequently: Don’t leave mail in your mailbox overnight.

√ Hold mail at your local post office: If you are going to be away from home and can’t check your mail, request to have your mail held at your local post office or have a trusted neighbor pick it up until your return. You can submit a USPS hold mail request online at www.usps.com/manage/hold-mail.htm or in-person at your local post office.

√ Use black gel pens: Gel pens may have ink that thieves have greater difficulty erasing compared to standard ballpoint pens.

√ Sign up for informed delivery from USPS: Informed delivery services allow consumers to receive a daily email with pictures of all letter-sized mail for that address each day. You can sign up online at www.usps.com/manage/informed-delivery.htm.

√ Review your checking account regularly: Look out for unusual or unexpected withdrawals from your bank account and take time to confirm when your checks clear.

What to do if you experience check-washing:

√ Contact your bank immediately.

√ File a police report.

√ Report the check washing to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 1-877-876-2455 or www.uspis.gov/report.

About the New York State Division of Consumer Protection

The New York State Division of Consumer Protection provides resources and education materials to consumers, as well as voluntary mediation services between consumers and businesses. The consumer assistance helpline (1-800-697-1220) is available from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, excluding state holidays. Consumer complaints can be filed at any time at www.dos.ny.gov/consumer-protection. For other consumer protection tips and consumer alerts, consumers can follow the New York Department of State on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and check in every Tuesday for more practical tips that educate and empower consumers on a variety of topics. Sign up to receive consumer alerts directly to an email or phone here.

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