During the first stages of my identity theft recovery (see previous blogs), my credit cards were frozen. Hackers controlled my gmail account and my linked Google Fi cell phone. I lost both of my two-step, account verification methods; I was unable to login to most of my online accounts. So, when I finally managed to open a new bank account, I resorted to using a checkbook.

I do NOT recommend that you do the same.

A bookkeeper recently told me that two of her clients had been victimized by an old, low-tech scam called check washing. That’s when mail thieves intercept a letter containing a check. They, then, erase the ink on (parts of) the check using acetone. Once washed, they change the payee information, often leaving the amount unchanged. The thieves cash the modified check and, because the amount foots in the issuer’s bank statement, many victims only become aware weeks later when they receive an overdue bill notice. According to the US Postal Inspection Service, check fraud (including check washing) is a $1 Billion annual problem.

So, if your business still uses checks to make payments, reduce the chances of a check being washed by taking the following steps:

First Steps
Use High Security Checks
The best of these checks have multiple security features, including stains that appear when check washing occurs.

Use a Black Gel Pen
Black gel ink is more difficult to wash out.

Use Your Bank’s Bill Payment Feature Instead
Most banks offer a bill payment service as part of their online banking. You can use it to pay vendors who only accept checks; they will still receive a check, but it will be issued by the bank and will not show your account number. Most banks offer zero liability fraud protection for such payments.

Consider Also
Not All Mailboxes Are Equal
You may have noticed that many USPS mailboxes now have very restrictive slots for inserting envelopes. Those slots are designed to deter “mailbox fishing.” That “sport” involves thieves dangling glue traps on a string into mailboxes to remove contents. Avoid any postal boxes that have old style, large mail slots. Also, do not deposit mail on Sundays or holidays, especially in isolated, business park mailboxes. Better still, deposit your mail inside the post office itself. Oh, and for you residential customers, do not place outgoing mail in your mailbox with the flag raised. Doing so, quite literally, is a red flag . . . and an invitation to mail thieves.

Yes, I admit that in this age of Bill.com, Melio, Venmo, Paypal, Stripe and other payment services, a warning about the perils of using checks sounds decidedly outdated. Nonetheless, a surprising number of small businesses still print and mail checks to vendors. I encounter them all the time. Remember. Ink jet printing is no match for acetone. Neither is toner.

Remember also to drop me a line if you have a business question. Click here to do so, or just to learn more about Worldwide Local Connect.

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