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Cases of check fraud escalate dramatically, with Americans warned not to mail checks if possible
NEW YORK — (AP) — Check fraud is back in a big way, fueled by a rise in organized crime that is forcing small businesses and individuals to take additional safety measures or to avoid sending checks through the mail altogether.
Banks issued roughly 680,000 reports of check fraud to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, also known as FinCEN, last year. That’s up from 350,000 reports in 2021. Meanwhile the U.S. Postal Inspection Service reported roughly 300,000 complaints of mail theft in 2021, more than double the prior year's total.
Early in the pandemic, government relief checks became an attractive target for criminals. The problem has only gotten worse and postal authorities and bank officials are warning Americans to avoid mailing checks if possible, or at least to use a secure mail drop such as inside the post office. Meanwhile, as the cases of fraud increase, victims are waiting longer to recover their stolen money.
Check usage has been in decline for decades as Americans have largely switched to paying for their services with credit and debit cards. Americans wrote roughly 3.4 billion checks in 2022, down from nearly 19 billion checks in 1990, according to the Federal Reserve. However, the average size of the checks Americans write rose from $673 in 1990 — or $1,602 in today's dollars — to $2,652 last year.