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Criminals turn to low-tech ‘check washing’ as online fraud made harder

The Reminder

LONGMEADOW — Online financial transactions have been a major path for theft and identity fraud for years. As more safeguards have been put in place to protect against those crimes, thieves have shifted back to more low-tech methods of stealing from the public.

The Longmeadow Police Department has seen an “influx” of residents reporting forgery in which checks are cashed by people unknown to them, and often for larger amounts than originally written, Chief Robert Stocks said. The department is working with the postal inspector and other area law enforcement to investigate these types of incidents, known as ‘check washing.’

Check washing is the practice of putting a stolen check in a mixture of chemicals to lift the ink from the paper, after which it is dried and made out to another recipient for a larger amount.

Stocks described the method as “rudimentary,” but the low-tech nature of check washing is precisely why it has become so popular. Christina Pickup, first vice president of security and fraud investigation for Berkshire Bank, said, “It’s lucrative and it’s very hard to track.” She added that these thefts are not usually the result of one or two people working alone in an area. “It’s organized crime,” she said.


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