Steps to Protect Yourself When Writing a Check

In an era dominated by digital transactions, it might seem strange that many businesses still accept paper checks, but these forms of payment haven’t gone away as quickly as some may have expected. Even with an apparent decline in personal checks, these continue to be a common payment method, with 11.2 billion checks written in 2021 alone. 

Unfortunately, despite the decline, check fraud is exploding, costing financial institutions billions and throwing many check writers’ finances into disarray. Whether you write checks to pay your rent/mortgage, give a wedding gift, or make a purchase to avoid credit card fees, protecting yourself when writing personal checks is still very much a necessity, and here are some of the ways you can do so.

Fill out checks the same way every time

A good practice for filling out checks to help avoid fraud is to use the entire line for both the payee and amount lines and draw a line to the end so no one can add any additional information before depositing. It’s also a great idea to sign your check the same way each time, as consistent handwriting is an additional protection if someone tries to forge your signature. Finally, never write “cash” in the payee space, as doing so can allow anyone to cash it. 

Consider the type of pen you use when writing checks

According to a recent New York Times article, criminals steal checks from the mail and employ a method known as “washing,” where they remove the ink, often using simple materials like nail polish remover, while leaving the signature intact. This illicit practice allows them to rewrite the checks to divert funds into their own accounts or sell the tampered checks on the dark web. 

While no pen can guarantee absolute security, opting for gel pens is advisable. Unlike ballpoint pens, gel ink proves more resistant to washing as it permeates the paper’s fibers, adding an extra layer of protection and reducing the risk of someone tampering with the information on your check.

Track your checks and monitor your accounts

If you need to mail a check, you’ll want to ensure that your check is sent securely in a security envelope or between other papers so it cannot be seen when held up to the light. Track your check by monitoring your account to verify that the check has been cashed. If you notice that a check you mailed wasn’t cashed, you should call the business or loved one to confirm that they received it and, if not, contact your bank to have a stop payment placed on that check. 

Finally, monitoring your bank accounts regularly and reporting any suspicious activity immediately is incredibly important. Online banking and mobile banking make it a breeze to check your accounts daily, and many banks allow you to set up automatic alerts so you’ll be informed of any suspicious logins or transactions. This simple step can make a difference in any potential fraud scenario, and quick action can help resolve issues and limit potential financial losses.

While check writing may seem straightforward, taking these precautionary steps is essential to protect yourself from potential risks and fraud. Remaining proactive and diligent in your financial practices is key to ensuring your protection.