Check fraud on the rise, costing people and businesses thousands

Published: Jun. 20, 2023 at 9:30 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Check fraud is on the rise again and experts have said personal checks are very easy to print on a computer where criminals can “wash” them to create blank checks.

“Generally speaking, check fraud has gone up. Easily gone up 10 to 20 percent over the last three years,” said Rose Oswald Poels, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Bankers Association.

According to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, banks made around 680,000 reports of check fraud last year, nearly double the total from 2021.

One thing experts have said you can do to prevent this from happening to you is avoid mailing checks or if possible, use a secure mail drop, like those inside the post office.

“The flag that you flip up on your mailbox at home is really just a signal for criminals to say ‘Hey we have outgoing mail,’” said Oswald Poels. “Odds are really high there’s a check in there and they will come and take it and they will wash your check, put any amount and make it payable to them. Before you know it the money is gone out of your account.”

Another option is to use online banking instead.

“Over the last year we have seen here at the Wausau Police Department a significant decrease in the number of fraud reports that come to our officers,” said Detective Nathan Cihlar, Wausau Police Department.

Lieutenant Jason Parks with Marshfield Police Department said if you believe you are missing money in your account, reach out to your bank immediately.

Lt. Parks added, “The important thing about accepting checks, make sure that if it is a larger purchase or from someone you don’t know, that you only take money orders or cashiers checks, and if you have any questions, look on the check and look at the financial institution that is printed out on the check.”

Another piece of advice from police is that owners of small businesses should put their checks into a secure location or take it directly to the bank themselves.