Check scam victims shares story

Published 12:10 am Saturday, April 22, 2023

SALISBURY — A woman in Salisbury wrote a $50 check for a memorial service in March but was shocked when she got her bank statement to see $4,000 had been withdrawn.

She was the latest victim in a scam that has become all too frequent around the country and has shown up in Rowan County.

According to the USPS website, “check washing” scams involve changing the payee names and often the dollar amounts on checks and fraudulently depositing them.

Occasionally, these checks are stolen from mailboxes and washed in chemicals to remove the ink. Some scammers will even use copiers or scanners to print fake check copies. Postal inspectors reportedly recover more than $1 billion in counterfeit checks and money orders every year, but you can take steps to protect yourself.

Whoever took the Salisbury victim’s check also attempted to cash it in person at a Spartanburg, South Carolina, bank.

“They confiscated the check, but the person walked,” the victim said.

When the bank statement was returned, a photocopy of the check revealed how the check had been altered. The pay-to-the-order line had been changed from the church that was holding the memorial to a person’s name. The faint markings that identified the church were still visible where the criminal had replaced the line with a name.

The chemical formula used by scammers allows them to reset a check and then fill in the blanks with whatever amount and payee they want.

“They altered the check,” the victim said. “It was very obvious that the check was altered.”

In addition to the payee line, the memo information and the signature line were amended.

According to a spokesperson with the Salisbury Police Department, over the last six months, the department has received reports of approximately 50 checks that had been obtained by a malicious actor who rewrote the check.

In doing so, the criminal can rewrite the check to a different recipient and either deposit or cash it fraudulently.

The U.S. Postal Service website has information about how to avoid the possible scammers that lurk around the corner. One of the tips included is to not drop mail off into a blue box after the final pick-up of the day.

Those tips also include retrieving your mail frequently and having your local post office hold your mail if you are going to be out of town.

The type of pen that a person uses can also help prevent fraud. A uniball No. 207 pen is pigment-based ink designed not to be able to be washed off.

How the criminals are gaining access to the mailed checks remains unclear. The keys for the blue mailboxes that are positioned around are checked out by mail carriers each day and returned at the end of the shift.

In January, a mail carrier in Charlotte was reportedly robbed at gunpoint and had the mailbox keys stolen. There is no indication that the two crimes are related, but it points to one way criminals might gain access to mail.

For additional safety tips about mail, go to the USPS website.