Submitted by Pretend_Freedom_8308 t3_10q8zqf in personalfinance

I have heard on the news recently that people are stealing checks out of mailboxes and either cashing them, or altering and then cashing them. Ignoring the actual act of theft because this is r/personalfinance, how is this possible?

If somebody steals a check and cashes it, why doesn't the bank (or whoever accepted the check) have to return the money? They are the negligent ones for not properly verifying that the check was written to the person cashing it. What am I missing here? Isn't being able to mail money and have only a specific person able to retrieve it literally the entire point of a check? Otherwise we might as well just mail cash to each other.



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Mysunsai t1_j6okoxi wrote

The bank does have to return the money.

The scammer is not the one returning the money though, the bank is. The scammer has already deposited the check in a stolen or fraudulent bank account (and/or at a check cashing location like many Walmarts), withdrawn the cash, and vanished into the ether.

This isn’t new, it’s as old as banks.


Pretend_Freedom_8308 OP t1_j6oltdo wrote

This is what I thought; it's not new but the news says these crimes are on the rise.

Everybody talks about making avoiding mailing checks, not using the big blue mail boxes, etc. but none of the stories I have seen mention anything about how to ensure the bank refunds your money they fraudulently gave away.


PM_Georgia_Okeefe t1_j6onvgr wrote

This isn't new. This has been going on for decades.

Thieves steal mail and then use special solvents to erase the "pay to" and "amount" fields, then cash them.


unibball t1_j6oqa9t wrote

You would hope that any solvent used to erase the pay to entry would destroy or damage the check, at least enough to make it questionable whether or not to cash it.


SheepImitation t1_j6p2bdo wrote

There are special pens you can use developed by Frank Abagnale Jr (the 'Catch me if you can' guy) to prevent this. If you still use checks, it's worth picking them up if you need to write the occasional check.


Rave-Unicorn-Votive t1_j6oke9v wrote

>They are the negligent ones for not properly verifying that the check was written to the person cashing it.

After washing, the check is written to the person cashing it.


Pretend_Freedom_8308 OP t1_j6ol6nl wrote

Not by the owner of the account though. That is part of what I am curious about I guess, since checks have a ton of anti-fraud features specifically to prevent this kind of thing. The bank should be able to tell the check was modified.


Interesting-Dish8894 t1_j6olsb5 wrote

Who the hell is using personal checks anymore and mailing them?


Pretend_Freedom_8308 OP t1_j6om697 wrote

Anybody who hires small time contractors, has a landlord who hasn't upgraded to electronic payments, or wants to send a sizeable amount of money to a family member. I hate writing checks and I avoid it whenever I can, but as a homeowner I have to write checks to pay my property taxes at a bare minimum, and whenever I hire an excavator, plumber, or other tradesperson there is a good chance they are going to want a check or cash.


OldUniversity3296 t1_j6oo46s wrote

As a irl example, on 09.24.22, I mailed 3 checks due to no card processing available at the payees. 2 had postage stamps and one was postage paid and they went into 2 different slots at the Post Office. The 2 with postage were never cashed nor did they reach the payees. On 11.2.22 a web payment appears on my checking account for an apartment in Houston TX and another smaller payment on 11.4.22 for a deposit of some sort. The checks were stolen by a postal employee and are usually “washed” and in this case the routing number and account number were used as web payments. Probably just sold between fellow criminals. The withdrawals were reversed and I was reimbursed the funds. It is quite a large criminal activity but becoming less so due to checks being used less often.


WithinN0rmalLimits t1_j6oozij wrote

It's a lot more straightforward when a fraudulent check is cashed that you didn't sign. the issue with check washing is that - your signature stays on the check so it looks like you authorized it.

I had this happen to me a few months ago unfortunately, but I was able to get my money refunded by my bank. I had to file a police report and a bunch of written statements swearing that although that was my signature on the check, that wasn't who I wrote the check to, or the amount it was written for.

From what the bank told me: when a check is cashed, that bank tells my bank to hand over the money to pay the person depositing it. When I filed for fraud, my bank tells the other bank to return the money because that was a bad check. That bank then has to investigate and come to the conclusion that it was in fact fraud, return the money to my bank, which can then return it to me. I was quoted 60-90 days. I had my money back the next day.


t-poke t1_j6om7rr wrote

Is there evidence that this is actually happening, or is this one of those urban legends the media makes up to scare people, like poisoned Halloween candy?


WithinN0rmalLimits t1_j6opfqq wrote

I happened to me and several others in my neighborhood. The police department even told me they were investigating the local post office because they were getting a lot of reports and they thought it was a rogue postal worker stealing the checks


Pretend_Freedom_8308 OP t1_j6omxw9 wrote

That's a good question. I have heard from two different local news sources (one is the local NPR station, the other I don't remember specifically but it was as trustworthy as any news source is these days) that this crime is "on the rise" but it doesn't say if that means 3 people out of a million were affected this month instead of just 2, or if it's now as bad as catalytic converter thefts or something.