A check is a paper form of payment that contains important information to access your bank or credit union account. The information includes routing number, account number, financial institution, personal information, and more. Writing a check to someone gives them many of the components to commit fraud. When a check is deposited into an account, it goes through a process called check clearing. The check clearing process generally takes five business days. Many fraudsters try to take advantage of this time window through different ways.
Types of check fraud
- Theft – stealing checks that belong to someone else.
- Washing – when a chemical is used to remove pertinent information from a check to be rewritten, most often to steal from the victim’s account.
- Kiting – intentionally and strategically accessing funds from a fraudulent check before the financial institutions involved have a chance to process them.
- Forgery – signing a check that doesn’t belong to you, or endorsing a check that isn’t made out to you or your business.
- Counterfeiting -- printing checks illegally using stolen information.
How to protect yourself
Privacy – Put your checks in a safe place, a fireproof safe is usually a good option. Limit the number of people that have access to your checks. Keep your account and routing numbers private and protected. Keeping these numbers protected will decrease the chances of an individual gaining access to your account.
Ordering checks – When ordering checks, it might be more advantageous to have them sent to your financial institution. If you send them to your home, see if the delivery can have a signature requirement. This will ensure that you get the checks inside your home and not risk them being taken out of your mailbox.
Monitor – Keep an eye on your financial accounts for any unfamiliar check clearings. If you notice anything unusual, be sure to get in contact with your financial institution right away. Also, keep track of the checks that you write to individuals.
Trust your instincts – Due to many fraudsters, you may receive checks that aren’t from a familiar source. You may also look at a check and notice something different about some of the components. If these situations occur, it may be a good idea to talk to your financial institution about your suspicion.
Other forms of payment – If a check isn’t required, maybe consider a different form of payment. For your protection, most credit and debit cards, as long as a PIN is not used, have fraud protection. There are also many cloud and mobile based payment services that can be used.
The use of checks has dramatically decreased as forms of online payments become increasingly popular. However, that doesn’t mean checks are obsolete as each year there are still billions of checks written. With that in my mind, it is still important to stay informed and aware of the different types of check fraud and how to protect yourself.
To learn more about check fraud, visit lifelock.com.