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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As many people place bills containing checks in their mailboxes or go to the post office to mail them, they may not be aware thieves could be targeting them, putting their money and identity in jeopardy.

Thieves are cleaning up by using check washing. Daniel Irwin with the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South says the tactic has been around for a while, but they are seeing more of it.

“Criminals steal checks from mailboxes and they wash them in household chemicals to erase the original name and dollar amount leaving blank spaces for them to fill out whatever they want to,” Irwin said.

One person we spoke with who didn’t want to be identified says she doesn’t mail her bills anymore.

“Everything I do is online (online banking), but again it’s our elderly generation that really still mails things like that and really need to be careful,” she said.

On social media, Tommy H says, “we put a check in the mailbox inside the Lynnfield post office at noon and by four p.m. it had been stolen, altered, and whoever is involved, attempted to cash it.”

Tricia H says, “It happened to us too!! Altered a 12-hundred check to 12-thousand dollars and cashed it.”

To avoid getting ripped off, the BBB recommends the following:

  • Consider using ink pens that contain indelible gel ink, which makes checks impossible to wash.
  • Use electronic banking.
  • If you do write a check, don’t leave it in a mailbox.

“Go ahead and take a little bit of extra effort, walk into the post office, mail your check that way and make sure you’re checking your bank account statements,” Irwin said. “If you are going to use checks, use a little bit more precaution. It could save you some money.”

The United States Postal Inspection Service also advises people to protect themselves from check washing in the following ways:

  • Deposit your outgoing mail in the blue collection boxes before the last pickup or at your local post office
  • Retrieve your mail frequently and never leave your mail in your mailbox overnight
  • If you are going on vacation, have your mail held at the post office or have it picked up by a friend or neighbor

The BBB says to contact their office if you’ve been a victim of check washing theft and call the police, along with the postal service police because this is a crime.

For more tips on how to avoid being the victim of other scams, visit the Better Business Bureau’s website. To report a scam, click here.