What is Check Washing? Definition, Best Way To Avoid Fraud

Have you ever mailed a cheque that was cashed, but the recipient claimed they never received it? You may be subject to check washing. Changing the payee names and frequently the monetary amounts on checks and then depositing them illegally constitutes check washing.

These checks are occasionally stolen from mailboxes and cleaned with chemicals to erase the ink. Some con artists may even use photocopiers or scanners to create counterfeit checks.

What is Check Washing?

Check washing is a very simple but often effective kind of fraud in which the information on a legal check is removed chemically or electronically, allowing a criminal to recreate the amount and payee’s name.

What is Check Washing?

While there may be some safeguards against such fraud, such as electronic inks and concealed watermarks, the practice is effective since many receivers accept the check at face value owing to the authenticity of the signature.

Due to the fact that simple ways may readily damage a paper check, many scam artists destroy more checks than they can cash.

The washing process is not very difficult, but the outcomes might vary greatly. A valid check is often prepared by applying a protective seal over the signature line. This may be a low-adhesive sticker or tape.

The check is then grasped with tongs and placed in a pan containing acetone, paint thinner, or bleach. Numerous varieties of ballpoint pen ink can be dissolved by the chemical. After the ink on the check has entirely dissolved, it is hung to air dry.

The desired outcome is a signed blank check that may be rewritten to suit the con artist’s purposes.

Driving around neighborhoods and surreptitiously inspecting outgoing mail placed at curbside mailboxes is a common way for getting authentic checks for check washing. Payroll checks and monthly bills are particularly attractive targets.

It has been reported that sophisticated con artists carry portable computers, laminating machines, scanners, and high-end printers in their vehicles in order to manufacture bogus identifications in order to pay batches of forged checks.

The primary difficulty with this form of fraud is writing a blank check. Standard blue ballpoint pen ink is easily removable with acetone, however black ink might be troublesome.

What is Check Washing?

Gel pens with black ink give the best protection against check washing, according to experts, since gel ink is resistant to chemical stripping and includes pigments that infiltrate the check’s fibers. If a washed check seems changed or bleached, it is invalid.

How To Protect Yourself From Check Washing Fraud

Utilizing chemicals that dissolve the ink, check washing is the process of removing the ink from a finished check. In order to deposit a bigger sum into their own bank accounts, criminals are removing the payee name and amount, and then replacing that information. Even Post Office staff have participated in the fraud by removing cheques from mailboxes during collecting rounds and concealing them before they can be sent to the Post Office.

Considering the prevalence of fraud, it may appear hard to safeguard oneself. However, there are measures you may do to lessen your likelihood of falling for this plan.

  • Use envelopes with security tinting – With a standard envelope, con artists may see that it contains a check by holding it up to the light. The patterned lining of security tinted envelopes makes it hard to look through them.
  • Use a gel ink pen – Certain forms of ink, such as gel ink, cannot be removed off paper because they penetrate beneath its surface. Some companies indicate on their box that they cannot be erased.
  • Fill the fields on your checks completely – In the Payee and Amount fields, there should be no empty spots. Write using large handwriting and cross off any surplus area such that no room remains for subsequent writing.
  • Mail checks from the Post Office – The most secure technique for mailing checks is to bring outgoing mail straight to the post office. The majority of stolen checks are taken from mailboxes outside of homes or on the street, long before they reach the Post Office.
  • Keep a detailed record of the checks you write – TThis provides you with a reference point if you discover that a check you wrote was cashed by a different person or for a different amount than you intended. The transaction log that comes with your checks can be utilized.
  • Use online bill pay when possible – Reducing the amount of checks you write decreases your vulnerability to fraud. When you pay your bills using a secure website, there are more safeguards in place than when you mail a check.

What is Check Washing?

  • Monitor your bank statements – There will be a record of your written checks that have been cashed on your bank statements. If you discover that a check you made has been deposited for more than it was written for, you must immediately report this fraudulent activity to your bank. There is a 30-day reporting window, so take care not to miss it.
  • Purchase Identity Theft Insurance – The most effective defense is proactive. If you have insurance in place prior to being a victim of fraud, you will receive aid in addressing any concerns, as well as funding for attorney expenses if you need to file a case for damages.

Our representatives are always ready to discuss methods of self-protection and can assist you in acquiring policies that provide the finest protection at the lowest cost. In addition, we can assist you in identifying any potential risks that are not currently covered by your insurance.

The best protection against check washing schemes?

Therefore, how can small businesses safeguard themselves? The National Check Fraud Center and other experts advise utilizing watermarks and even unique fibers on your checks.

In Palatine, Illinois, where incidents are on the rise, police recommend using pens with special “pigments” that can be found in local office supply stores with labels reading “anti-fraud” and “check security.”

But the best protection? Stop using checks!

What is Check Washing?

The majority of banks provide online payment options. Credit cards are generally accepted, and if a vendor does not take them, you may utilize a service such as Plastiq to facilitate payment.

Digital payment platforms such as PayPal and Venmo (which PayPal owns) are simple to set up. Using checks is inefficient, time-consuming, prone to mistake, and, as evidenced by these studies, carries the possibility of fraud-related loss.

Moreover, it produces a gap in information that makes reporting less timely and cash management more challenging.

You may assume that all of these factors would discourage small firms from issuing checks. However, this is not the case. Many of my clients continue to pay their vendors in the traditional manner, perhaps because the majority of these clients are older.

What is Check Washing?

They are nevertheless not alone. The habit of writing checks is still prevalent among small firms. Even while the number of check payments decreased by 7.2 percent each year from 2015 to 2018, individuals and companies still issued more than 14.5 billion checks, according to a new Federal Reserve research.

Yes, that is a billion! In conclusion, the move away from check-writing is occurring, but it is not occurring quickly enough.

What is Check Washing?


Check washing is the act of wiping information from checks so that they can be redone, typically for criminal objectives such as fraudulently withdrawing funds from the victim’s bank account.

The check writer might take several precautions to limit the likelihood of falling prey to check washing. These include mailing checks in protected mailboxes, using secure ink from a gel, rollerball, or fountain pen, completing all lines on the check, and closely examining bank statements.


Using a process known as check washing, mail snatchers erase the ink on a check with chemicals found in common household cleaning products and then “reuse” the checks by rewriting them to themselves. Then when you check your bank statement, you see that your check went through and the amount matches.
Tips: Protect Against Check ‘Washing’
  1. Do not put outgoing bills in an unattended or unlocked mailbox. …
  2. Minimize the number of checks you write. …
  3. When writing out checks, use a gel ink pen (preferably black) so the ink will permeate the fibers of the check.
  4. Do not leave blank spaces on the payee or amount lines.
Cheque washing uses common household chemicals to lift the ink from cheques. The washer then rewrites the payee and/or the amount. Acetone, benzene, bleach and carbon tetrachloride may all be used to remove various inks.
Check washing is the process of erasing details from checks to allow them to be rewritten, usually for criminal purposes such as fraudulent withdrawal from the victim’s bank account. Various steps can be taken by the writer of the check to reduce the possibility of falling victim to check washing.
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Pat Moriarty
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