Check Washing - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Check Washing

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Check washing is a simple, low-tech way to alter a check you have written. It is the chemical erasing of the handwritten parts of a check. The idea is to remove the ink while maintaining the overall appearance of the check and its preprinted items. The concern here is that these chemicals and solvents are readily available everywhere.

Once the "washing" has been accomplished, the payee and/or amount may be altered.   Often times, the amount remains the same while only the payee is changed. This allows for it to pass by unnoticed when balancing your bank statement.  

Check washing, and check fraud of all kinds, is a growing concern for the banking industry.   Attempted check fraud at the nation's banks has more than doubled in the past three years reaching an estimated $12.2 billion in 2006, according to the latest American Bankers Association Deposit Account Fraud Survey Report.   Actual dollars lost to check fraud was $969 million in 2006, up from the reported $677 million in 2003.   In addition to the banking industry, it is a growing concern for the FBI, US Attorneys Office, and the US Postal Service.   As this crime frequently stems from stolen mail, the Postal Investigation Service offers rewards of up to $10,000 for information and services leading to the arrest and conviction of any person for mail theft.  

Tips for minimizing your risk of check washing include:

Do not put outgoing bills in an unattended or unlocked mailbox.   If possible, take outgoing mail to your local post office.   It is recommended that you not drop your mail after the last pickup of the day.

Minimize the number of checks you write.   Do your bill paying online on a secure computer.   This minimizes the possibility of your checks being stolen through the mailing process. Remember it's your responsibility to know where you are sending your payments online.

When writing out checks, use a gel ink pen (preferably black) so the ink will permeate the fibers of the check.

Do not leave blank spaces on the payee or amount lines

If you receive cancelled checks, shred them.   If it is necessary to keep them, store them in a secured, locked location.

Review your bank statements immediately.   You have a limited time frame in which to report fraudulent transactions.   When fraud is detected, it is necessary to report it within 30 days (UCC Code 4-406).

When possible, have your new checks delivered to your bank.

When ordering new checks, find out what security measures are being used by the manufacturer.   These measures may include:

Chemical voids - this is a counter chemical measure to "washing".   This treatment of the check paper causes the word VOID to appear when washing solutions are used.

Security inks - these inks disappear, fade or stain when exposed to check washing chemicals such as bleach, water or other solvents.

Other security measures available, which do not pertain directly to check washing, include:

Watermarks - These marks (visible on one side or both) may be subtle design features not easily detected on the face of the check.   This measure is difficult to duplicate and offers protection from photocopying and scanners.

Copy Void pantographs - A background of a check that, when photocopied, changes and the word VOID appears

Microprinting or high resolution graphics - very fine print or intricate line detail which cannot be reproduced accurately by copiers or scanners

Invisible fibers - fibers which are embedded in the check and only visible with special lighting

Visible fibers - fibers readily apparent throughout the check 

Different types of Check Fraud

1. Check Theft: A thief uses existing stolen checks

2. Check washing: A thief takes an existing check and chemically washes it, and alters it.

3. Checking account takeover: A thief adds his/her information to your account, changes the mailing address or makes unauthorized alterations to your account for unlimited access.

4. Check counterfeiting: A thief takes blank check stock and creates additional checks that mirror your account. This information is on the bottom of every check and deposit slip. This can happen regardless if the account is opened or closed.

5. Check synthesizing: Your name and address appears on a check for an account that you never opened, perhaps at a bank you don't use.

 Steps to clearing up Check Fraud

1.   File a police report. This will be in the city/state you live in. Please get a physical copy of this report.

2.   Send via certified mail return receipt to the check verification companies, financial institutions and merchants copies of the following: police report, fraud affidavit, Letter Form 126, and Letter Form 100 - 2.

3.   Check to verify with the check verification companies, financial institutions and merchants to see if your driver's license number is being used to pass the bad checks. If so, contact your DMV Fraud Department and request that your license number is changed.

Keep a copy of all documents for your records. Always request a letter of clearance.

Helpful Information: Security Alert for Three Credit reporting agencies.

Telephone Numbers and Mailing Addresses of the Three Major Credit Bureaus

The contact information for the three major credit reporting agencies (or credit bureaus) is below.  When you contact them, you must have specific information handy so that they can verify your identity.  Note that these agencies have a duty to make sure that the person requesting a copy of his or her credit report is indeed that person and not a thief or unauthorized third party.  Therefore, if the information they have on file about you does not match the information you provide to them, there will be a delay in obtaining your report, or they might deny your request altogether. 

For example, if you have recently moved, the credit bureau might not have your new address and phone number yet. If you request they send your credit report to your new address, they will refuse your request and ask you to prove you are who you say you are.  This might require sending them copies of your driver's license with the new address and a statement from a landlord, utility company, etc. that proves you live at the new address.  Therefore, if you want to obtain a copy of your credit report as quickly as possible, it would be wise to phone them first and find out if you can simply order your report over the phone, or need to send them proof of your identity.  And, before contacting them, read this page entirely to find out if you would like to obtain free credit reports online with absolutely no catches or hidden fees involved.

Experian

P. O. Box 9595 [see note] , Allen, TX 75013-9595   Tel:  888-397-3742

When ordering your credit report, you might be asked to provide the following information:  First, middle and last name; current address; previous addresses for the past five years; social security number, date of birth; spouse's name.  If you are not entitled to a free credit report, they will charge you a fee around $10 for a copy of your credit report

Note:  Experian has a long history of changing its mailing address periodically, so the mailing address provided may not be accurate.

Equifax

P. O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241  Tel:  800-685-1111

When ordering your credit report, you might be asked to provide the following information:  Full legal name, address, social security number, most recent former address.  If you are not entitled to a free credit report, they may charge you a fee around $10 for a copy of your credit report.

Trans Union

P. O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022  Tel:  800-888-4213

When ordering your credit report, you might be asked to provide the following information:  First, middle and last name; current address; previous addresses for past two years; social security number, date of birth; current employer; phone number.  If you are not entitled to a free credit report, they may charge you a fee around $10 for a copy of your credit report.

If you want to order your credit reports online, you are entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three credit bureaus -- Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.  The three credit bureaus have set up a website so you can easily order your credit reports online. 

You can also order your credit report online at each of the three credit bureaus' websites:  experian.com, transunion.com and equifax.com.  Howevever, if you order your credit reports online directly from their websites, there is a good chance you will have to pay a small fee, and they will try to sell you numerous services and programs that you don't really need.  

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