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Old-fashioned check fraud is back, this time with violent attacks on mail carriers
Everything old is new again. There was a time when my parents taught me to be extremely careful with personal checks — never to leave open space in the amount fields, lest someone add a zero, for example. Over the past several years, check writing has fallen deeply out of favor. In fact, check writing is down about 80% since 1990, thanks to online banking, automated payments, and so on. So you might think check fraud is down, too. It was, until recently.
I started hearing about a massive increase in old-fashioned check fraud from experts a year or so ago, and fresh data confirms that. The Treasury Department says check fraud doubled last year.
This is not your parents’ check-washing crimes, however. Organized gangs have combined online and offline tactics to make this a more lucrative, and more dangerous, crime wave. Criminals steal checks from the mail, “wash” them to change the payee and amount, then use money mules to deposit them. Sometimes called “walkers,” crime gangs are fond of using trustworthy-looking, older Americans to as money mules to make their deposits. Some are unwitting accomplices, some are in on the crime. In many cases, hacker partners learn all they can about bank accounts that are being attacked so the gangs can write checks specially crafted to fool a bank’s automated fraud detection tools.