Mailing a Holiday Check? Here’s How To Protect Monetary Gifts From Fraud

View from inside a mailbox of mail with the mailbox door slightly open.
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While giving money to your loved ones this holiday season is a very nice gesture, there are also some on the naughty list who have their eye on the mail this time of year and are looking to steal those funds for themselves.

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Every year seems to bring more and more Grinches to the fold, and even though most people know sending cash in your holiday cards is not safe, personal checks are now becoming prime targets.

According to the financial security safety firm NICE Actimize, holiday check fraud is anticipated to increase by 38% this year over 2021 – continuing a trend that saw an 108% rise from 2020 to 2021.

Even the U.S. Postal Service has gotten hip to some of the scammers’ practices such as robbing postal carriers to steal master keys to break into delivery boxes as the USPS Postal Inspection Service told the Justice Department earlier this year. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, after master keys are procured, they are often then sold online to interested parties for up to $2,500, “depending on the wealth of the area in which the mailboxes are located.”

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Sometimes USPS employees are also part of these crime rings, as was the case in late September when the U.S. Department of Justice went after a group in New York that was alleged to have defrauded $1.3 million from customers. While that case was mostly credit card fraud, checks are becoming a prize to other thieves.

According to the Sun-Times article, check washing is becoming easier and easier in which thieves use a chemical to remove the ink on the original and then put a new payee’s name and amount — one such check in Chicago written for $30 was cashed for more than $9,400.

It’s probably not the news many want to hear as they’re getting checks written to family and friends to send over the next couple of weeks in time for the holidays. But there are ways to protect yourself, according to NICE Actimize.

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Yuval Marco, the agency’s General Manager of Fraud and Authentication Management has the following tips to share to keep your bank account safe:

Use advanced postal service tools. “If you must send a check, try to use a signature required service so there is time to stop the check if you think it may have disappeared,” says Marco.

Know the right ink. The pen you use to write your check is important. You’ll want one with indelible gel ink that isn’t “washable.” Banks usually have them available for customers. You could also do a money order instead that guarantees only the recipient you intend cashes it.

Check in with your loved one. “Be sure to follow up with the recipient immediately to confirm your gift was received,” Marco advises. “And if you think a check has gone missing, put a stop order on the check as soon as you can.”

Go digital. If you’re concerned about sending checks this year, Marco says, “Consider going completely digital by offering an online gift card.” If you don’t know where your recipient loves to shop you can buy gift cards through providers like American Express that act like a debit card that they can use at any retail shop.

Make Your Money Work for You

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About the Author

Selena Fragassi joined in 2022, adding to her 15 years in journalism with bylines in Spin, Paste, Nylon, Popmatters, The A.V. Club, Loudwire, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and others. She currently resides in Chicago with her rescue pets and is working on a debut historical fiction novel about WWII. She holds a degree in fiction writing from Columbia College Chicago.
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