Key Takeaways:

  • Check alteration scams involve altering the payee's name and amount on a check using special tools or chemicals, leading to unauthorized withdrawals.
  • Protecting yourself requires a combination of vigilance, such as using secure mailboxes, opting for digital payments, and regularly monitoring bank statements.
  • Implementing security measures like writing checks with gel pens, requesting bank services like Positive Pay, and properly disposing of unused checks can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to these scams.

riting a check is a common way to pay for things, but it's important to know that there are scams out there targeting checks.

These scams, known as check alteration scams, involve criminals changing the amount or the payee's name on checks you've written, stealing your money in the process.

This article is here to help you understand what these scams are, how they work, and most importantly, how you can protect yourself from becoming a victim. With the right knowledge and precautions, you can keep your finances safe.

What Are Check Alteration Scams?

Check alteration scams involve the unauthorized modification of a check after it has been written and signed. Scammers use various chemicals and methods to erase or modify the payee's name and the amount on the check, redirecting the funds to themselves.

This fraudulent activity can lead to significant financial loss and a breach of personal security.

How Check Alteration Scams Work:

The scam begins when a written check is intercepted by a fraudster.

This interception can occur in several ways: it might be stolen from a mailbox, swiped from a desk, or even taken directly from the trash if disposed of carelessly.

Once in possession of the check, the scammer uses specialized tools or chemicals to erase or alter the information on the check. The name of the payee can be changed to that of the scammer or an accomplice, and the amount can be increased to a much larger sum. The altered check is then deposited, and by the time the fraud is discovered, the scammer has often withdrawn the funds and disappeared.

The Impact of Check Alteration Scams:

The impact of check alteration scams can be significant. Victims not only face the immediate financial loss from the altered check amount but may also encounter a lengthy and complicated process to recover the stolen funds.

Furthermore, these scams can lead to a breach of personal security, as personal banking information is exposed to criminals.

8 Ways to Protect Yourself from Check Alteration Scams:

Protection against check alteration scams involves a combination of careful practices and the use of secure banking tools:

  1. Use Secure Mailboxes: When sending checks by mail, use post office boxes or secure postal services to reduce the risk of theft.
  2. Go Digital When Possible: Opt for electronic payments whenever possible. Many institutions allow for electronic transfers that are more secure and easily traceable.
  3. Limit Check Usage: Minimize the use of checks for payments. If a check is absolutely necessary, consider delivering it directly to the recipient.
  4. Review Your Bank Statements Regularly: Monitor your bank statements closely for any unauthorized transactions. Early detection is key to preventing further loss.
  5. Use Gel Pens: Write checks using gel pens, as the ink is more resistant to alteration methods.
  6. Request 'Positive Pay' Services: Many banks offer a service known as "Positive Pay," which matches the checks issued by a company against those presented for payment. Any discrepancies are flagged for verification.
  7. Secure Personal Information: Keep your checkbook and financial documents in a safe place, ideally in a locked cabinet or safe.
  8. Shred Unused Checks: If you have checks that are outdated or for closed accounts, shred them before disposal to prevent them from being stolen and altered.

While check alteration scams may seem like a relic of the past, they continue to pose a real threat in today's increasingly digital world. By understanding how these scams work and implementing protective measures, you can significantly reduce your risk of falling victim to these deceptive practices. Remember, vigilance and proactive protection are your best defenses against any form of financial fraud.

Remember to Report Fraud Immediately: If you suspect that a check has been altered or if you fall victim to a scam, report it to your bank immediately. They can take steps to protect your account and assist in the recovery process.

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Feb 15, 2024