WPCNR COMMUNITY ALERT. From Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, March 30, 2015:
Editor’s Note: This is the second of Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore’s columns to alert county residents of typical scams they should be aware are being tried on residents currently. This column is particularly timely. We appreciate the District Attorney for beginning a practice WPCNR has long advocated law enforcement organizations practice: preemptive information. This month’s column explains a current scam that was worked on persons we know. They recovered their money. Ms.DiFiore explains how Check Washing operates:
Check Washing is a disturbing trend that begins with mail being stolen for the purpose of obtaining personal and business checks. A person may become aware they have been a victim of check washing only after checking their balance and realizing more money is missing than they expect.
Check washing is an easy way for someone to turn “your” money into “their” money. It’s the chemical erasing of the handwritten parts of the check you have written. Criminals remove the “payee” portion and the “amount”. Your signature remains intact. They use solvents such as acetone, brake fluid and bleach. Once the check is “washed”, the payee and/or the amount of the check can be altered. The thief often inflates the amount. $45 dollars becomes $645 dollars as an example.
Tips for minimizing your risk of check washing include:
- Never put outgoing bills in your house mail box. Avoid placing your mail in street mail boxes. In some cases thieves have targeted them. It’s strongly recommended that you take your outgoing mail to your local post office.
- Minimize the number of checks you write. Your best option is to pay bills on line using a secure computer. This minimizes the possibility of your checks being stolen through the mailing process.
- When writing out checks, use a gel ink pen (preferably black) so the ink will permeate the fibers of the check. There are brands that advertise that they are non-erasable.
- Never leave blank spaces on the payee or amount lines. Write large and use XXs to fill in space.
- Shred cleared checks returned along with your bank statements.
- 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).
- If possible, have your new checks delivered to your bank.
Investigate any of the following:
- A call from a bill collector for a payment you know you mailed.
- A check is declined by a merchant when you have not bounced any checks.
- A merchant notice about a bounced check you did not write.
- A notice from a check verification company regarding a problem of which you were not aware of.
- A call from your local bank branch informing you someone you don’t know or they don’t recognize is trying to cash your check.
In 2014, the Westchester County District Attorneys office created an Identity Theft Unit in response to an exploding number of ID theft, credit card fraud and check washing complaints. The Unit vertically prosecuted and investigated 226 cases, resulting, so far, in 83 felony convictions.
Those prosecutions represent increases of 350% in ID theft complaints and a 1,200% increase in felony guilty pleas from one year earlier. If you suspect you are a victim of check washing, immediately report it to the police.