(nerd wallet) – Admittedly, you probably don’t use paper checks for most things. But are you mailing back payments to health care providers and insurance companies? Are you paying checks for random parking tickets or your child’s piano lessons? Now is a good time to stop. Check fraud related to mail theft is on the rise nationwide, according to his February alert from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Also, mailman robberies are on the rise.
This is partly due to the effects of the pandemic, in which thieves targeted government bailout checks contained in mail. Michael Bruemmer, Head of Global Data Breach Resolution at Experian, said:
The U.S. Postal Service is vulnerable, and thieves with access to your checks can change the amount and withdraw the funds directly from your bank account. And it can take weeks to get your funds back.
“When you mail a check and it’s intercepted, it’s definitely a life-changing event,” says Mary Ann Miller, fraud and cybercrime executive advisor and vice president of client experience at consumer identification firm Prove. “Then it could take all the money out of your account at once.”
Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself from check fraud and what to do if you become a victim.
Use an alternative payment method
Look for ways to pay bills that don’t require you to use the mail. For example, check your statement for online payment instructions. “Online options are starting to grow,” says Miller. “In fact, some providers like One Medical offer a very nice option of paying through their mobile app with all your medical information. I find it very convenient and modern.”
if you paying individualsAsk if you accept electronic payments via , PayPal, Venmo, Zelle, or other cash apps. “You don’t have to write a check at all today,” says Bloomer.
Are you dealing with a vendor that doesn’t offer easy payment methods online? Call and ask if you can pay over the phone. “IVR (interactive voice response) or phone payments with a live customer service representative are definitely the preferred options,” says Miller. “Make sure you’re calling the correct number for your utility or health care provider.”
And in general, experts recommend using: credit card To conduct transactions as much as possible. “If you travel internationally or buy things online, credit cards give you more protection around the world,” said Derek Meiser, investment adviser and CEO of Meizer Wealth Partners in Knoxville, Tennessee.
send checks securely
If you need to send a check, take steps to reduce the potential for financial disruption. For larger payments, consider using a carrier such as UPS or FedEx. “They take the check and give you a tracking number,” says Miller.
If you use the US Postal Service, mail your payment in a security envelope and drop it off directly at the post office, bypassing the mailbox or mailman.you can also write a check Use a black gel ink pen to make it harder for criminals to wash the check (the ink will soak into the paper).
If you send someone a check, ask them to let you know when you receive it. That way, if too much time has passed and the payee has not received the check, stop paymentsuggests Miller.
A final safety net: Keep enough funds in your checking account to pay your bills, and keep the rest elsewhere, such as a linked savings account. The smaller the balance in your checking account, the less money someone can access by forging a check against your account.
Take action if check fails
If you believe your check has fallen into the wrong hands, call your bank immediately. Then file a police report and contact the person or business that was supposed to receive the check. If you have made a payment, you may need to arrange to make another payment to avoid late fees or interest.
Be forewarned: the process of getting your fraudulently lost money back into your bank account varies by institution, and some schedules take longer. “Usually customers recover fully, but it can take months,” says Miller.
In the meantime, consider setting a fraud alert on your credit report in case someone tries to open a credit in your name, and check your bank statements and credit reports carefully. Please note that you are eligible to receive a free credit report from each of the three major reporting agencies each year. AnnualCreditReport.com.
Some banks also let you set up check monitoring to receive text messages and alerts when transactions over a certain amount are cashed.
“I would say that almost every bank now has some kind of oversight,” said Bloomer. “Take advantage of the free alerts that come with being a member of a financial institution.”
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