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Check washing & check fraud can dirty your spring cleaning

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqSWxvsmczI?rel=0]

Check washing is so simple, you must learn to prevent check fraud

Are check fraud and check washing still relevant in the age of digital payments? If you’re like the average person, chances are you don’t write too many checks anymore. With the convenience of online payment options, nearly universal acceptance of credit and debit cards, and the proliferation of ATMs offering you easy access to money at every turn, why resort to the archaic, labor-intensive method of writing a check?

The simple answer—sometimes we have no other choice!  Some places still don’t accept credit cards (Costco if you don’t have an American Express), or they charge an extra fee for them.  Some retailers don’t offer online payment options.  And frankly, sometimes it’s just an old habit and we haven’t made the effort to find a safer option because we’re stuck in the mindset of “it’s never happened to me” when thinking about check fraud.

Yet, according to a recent AFP Payments Fraud and Control Survey, checks remain the payment type most vulnerable to fraud attacks. In an American Bankers Association Deposit Account Fraud Survey, 73% of banks reported check fraud losses totaling approximately $893 million. And perhaps scariest of all, the imprisonment rate for check fraud is only 2% according to a statement made by the Department of Justice.  So although it’s not as glamorous or high tech as some other forms of fraud, check fraud is very tempting to criminals. It’s often as easy as taking an afternoon stroll down a street looking for vulnerable mailboxes, and then doing a little bit of “laundry”.

Check Washing Check Fraud

One form of check fraud that hits home for businesses and individuals alike is check washing.  It is the practice of removing legitimate check information, especially the “Pay To” name and the amount, and replacing it with data beneficial to the criminal (his own name or a larger amount) through chemical or electronic means. We conducted our own experiment to see just how easy it is to alter a check.  Take a look at our results in the video above.

What can you do to prevent this form of check fraud from happening to you?  There are many steps you can take:

  • Always use high security checks with multiple check fraud and check washing countermeasures
  • Use security gel-based pens with dark ink 
  • Don’t leave mail containing checks in an unattended or unlocked mailbox  (i.e. w/ red flag up)
  • Buy a locking mailbox (one large enough for a postal carrier to put mail through, but not large enough for a hand)
  • Shred voided checks
  • Check your bank statements regularly and immediately when you receive them.  You have a limited time in which to report check fraud.
  • Put clear tape over important fields when mailing a check
  • Do not leave blank spaces on payee or amount lines
  • Have new checks delivered to your bank if possible so they are not sitting in your unattended mailbox

Businesses are highly susceptible to massive check fraud via check washing, because the balances in their accounts tend to be higher and more vulnerable. This simple change from regular checks to high security checks can drastically reduce your risk of check washing and check fraud.

John Sileo is CEO of The Sileo Group, and a  keynote speaker on cyber security, identity theft and business fraud prevention. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.

Stop Check Fraud with Security Checks

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How to Stop Check Fraud and Check Washing

stop check fraudCheck washing, a highly common form of check fraud, is the practice of removing legitimate check information, especially the “Pay To” name and the amount, and replacing it with data beneficial to the criminal (his own name or a larger amount) through chemical or electronic means.  One of the many ways to protect yourself against check fraud is so important that it deserves its very own article.

A foolproof way to protect your checks from being altered, whether by washing or by electronic means, is to use security checks offered by most companies.

Here are some of the features to look for when you’re purchasing High Security Checks.  These features will safeguard you not only against check washing, but other high tech forms of check fraud as well:

  • Safety security paper (visible and invisible fluorescent fibers, chemical-sensitive)
  • Foil hologram (cannot be reproduced by copiers or scanners)
  • High resolution border elements (intricate design is difficult to reproduce)
  • True watermark (cannot be reproduced by copiers or scanners)
  • Toner adhesion  (damage is visible if toner is lifted or scraped)
  • Void element (the word void appears if photocopied or chemically altered)
  • False positive test area (instant authenticity test with black light or counterfeit pen)
  • Complex pantograph background pattern and high-security colors
  • Thermochromatic ink (reacts to heat to deter copying)
  • Original document backing (deters cut and paste alteration attempts)
  • Chemical wash detection area (shows chemical alteration attempts)
  • Security warning box (becomes visible when photocopied)
  • Padlock icon (signifies that checks meet industry standards)

One more vital tip to foil the check washers: use a dark ink, gel-based pen, preferably one that states it is a security pen. Take a look at the video to the left to see how easy it is to wash a check if you are not using a high security gel-based pen. 

Yes, you may spend a few extra dollars for security checks and pens, but compared to the staggering cost of recovering from check-washing schemes (small businesses lose more than 7%  of their annual revenue to check fraud  – over $600 billion), it’s a drop in the bucket!  Your peace of mind and saved recovery time are worth it.

Checks Unlimited provides personal Securiguard checks with 7 advanced security features including chemical protective paper, microprint signature lines, and a 2 dimensional holographic foil that is irreproducible on copiers or scanners.  Their Security Center also offers fraud prevention tips and security products!

John Sileo is CEO of The Sileo Group, and a  keynote speaker on cyber security, identity theft and business fraud prevention. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.