From texting scams to fake online marketplace ads, there are no shortage of ways that local and cybercriminals can use technology, as well as digital vulnerabilities, to scam money out of unsuspecting victims. Check fraud may not seem like a high-tech crime. In fact, it’s been around for centuries—at one point getting so bad that checks were even banned in some parts of Europe in the 1600s. But today’s criminals continue to build off of age-old techniques, employing technological advancements to help them evolve their methods.
Because of this, preventing check fraud can be harder than simply making sure your checks don’t get into the wrong hands. In this post, we’ll offer our best tips for check fraud protection, from familiarizing yourself with common types of check fraud to who to contact if you fall victim to a scam.
Understanding Check Fraud in the Digital World
At its core, check fraud is a simple concept: it’s the act of using deceptive means to either write or alter a check. In the past, this might have involved physically altering a check or forging a signature. Today, with the rise of online banking and digital transactions, criminals have found new, sophisticated ways to commit these crimes. Here are just a few ways criminals can commit check fraud:
- Check altering: Criminals use chemicals to erase the name of the original recipient. They may also alter the dollar amount of the check.
- Counterfeit checks: Create false checks (from real or fake accounts) and pass them off as legitimate.
- Closed account fraud: Checks are written against accounts that have already been closed. Because it may take several days to verify, individuals cashing these checks may not realize it until it’s too late.
- ACH fraud: Criminals use your account number and routing number to draw digital payments from your account.
Whether duplicating checks, creating counterfeit ones, or manipulating digital data to serve their purposes, criminals are getting better and better at defrauding unsuspecting checking account holders.
Guarding Against Check Fraud
There are many things that banks do to protect their customers from check fraud, from using checks with tamper-resistant paper and ink to providing additional secure payment methods for checking accounts like free online bill pay and secure debit cards. But the best way to keep yourself safe is to stay informed so you can recognize fraud and avoid risky practices.
So, how can you ensure you’re not the next victim of check fraud? Here are some straightforward steps:
Regularly Monitor Your Accounts
With online banking, it’s easier than ever to keep an eye on your transactions. Make it a habit to check your accounts regularly for any suspicious activity. As soon as you see something that doesn’t look right, reach out to your bank to report it.
Use Secure Networks
When accessing your bank account or conducting any financial transactions online, ensure you’re on a secure network. Avoid public Wi-Fi for such activities unless you use a VPN. Instead, use your phone’s hotspot or data plan.
Shred Important Documents
As old-fashioned as it may sound, criminals still go through physical trash to find bank statements, unused checks, and documents with personal information. If you don’t have a shredder, consider taking these items to a community shredding event, like these events offered in Central Illinois.
Phone or computer requesting you to approve a system update? Do it. Security patches are regularly released, designed to protect you from criminal activity.
Additionally, banks, including Flanagan State Bank, work hard to keep their customers protected, updating their security protocols often. Ensure your mobile and online banking apps are always up-to-date.
Be Wary of Unsolicited Communications
If you receive an email or call from someone claiming to be your bank and asking for personal details, be cautious. Don’t engage—instead, call your bank directly using the number on their official website or the back of your bank card.
Remember, we know your bank account number already—we’ll never call you to ask for it.
Avoid Mailing Checks
At the onset of the pandemic, mailed relief checks issued by the government became a prime target for criminals. As criminal organizations perfect their methods, this issue continues to get worse, prompting postal authorities and banking officials to advise Americans against sending checks through the mail. If you need to send a check, use secure mail drops, like those located inside post offices.
Don’t Accept Checks from Strangers
A common check fraud scheme involves paying for goods or services with a fake or forged check. Alternatively, the payer may attempt to pay with a check that is for a larger amount than requested, after which they request you to refund the difference in cash or gift cards—untraceable payment forms.
When selling items on online marketplaces, request alternative payment forms, including money orders or person-to-person payment platforms like Venmo. And only accept payments for the exact amount you are selling an item for.
Know What to Do If It Happens
As we mention in our post, “What to Do If You Suspect Fraud”, “it’s essential to take immediate action to mitigate the impact and protect yourself from further harm.”
If you suspect you’ve been a victim of fraud, notify your bank or credit card company immediately. If you believe an unauthorized person gained access to your account, change your password or PIN right away. Then, contact the appropriate law enforcement agencies.
Local Central Illinois Sheriff’s Offices:
- For residents of Flanagan, Pontiac, and elsewhere in Livingston County: Livingston County Sheriff
- For residents of Bloomington, Le Roy, parts of El Paso, and elsewhere in McClean County: McLean County Sheriff
- For residents of Benson, parts of El Paso, and elsewhere in Woodford County: Woodford County Sheriff
You may also report your experience to national agencies: US Department of Justice, Criminal Division
Flanagan State Bank: A Pillar of Trust Since 1913
With all its conveniences, the digital age also brings new challenges and threats, including advances in check fraud. But with awareness, vigilance, and the support of trusted institutions like family-owned Flanagan State Bank, we can navigate the digital financial landscape safely.
Here at Flanagan State Bank, our relationships with our customers are more than transactions—they’re about one family helping another, ensuring that everyone has the knowledge and resources to protect themselves. We’re proud to have served Central Illinois communities for over a century.
Whether you’re in Flanagan, Bloomington, El Paso, Benson, Le Roy, Gridley, or Pontiac, we strive to be your trusted local bank. If you have questions or concerns about any check, communication, or transaction, visit one of our branches or contact us. Stay safe, stay informed, and let’s look out for one another in this digital age.