With the creation of check printing software and online banks, sending checks through the mail is not nearly as standard in the modern era as it was in the past. However, you may still need to use snail mail to send payments and checks to others. Doing so poses security risks, especially in a day and age when scammers are rampant, and technology is sophisticated enough to allow would-be thieves to wreak havoc.
Anytime you use the mail, there is the potential that your check could become lost or that someone with nefarious intent could steal it. If that happens, they could make copies and attempt to cash them or use your personal information (or the intended recipient’s) to commit identity theft fraud.
However, with the proper precautions, you can increase the safety and security of sending checks through the mail.
Conceal Checks Carefully
When mailing checks, the first line of business is to limit the risk that someone might discover that there is one enclosed in your envelope and decide to steal it. The easiest way to do that is to conceal that there is a check inside.
Enclosing the check in a security envelope helps hide it because those are thicker than the standard fare. You could also place it within a card or wrap the paper around it so it is not apparent to the casual observer. Another option is to send a darker envelope, as that provides natural resistance to prying eyes.
Take Precautions When Mailing
Generally, mailing through UPS or the USPS is a safe procedure, but from time to time, packages are misplaced or given to the wrong address, or letters become lost. However, more significant risks can take place before the envelope even enters the hands of mail services.
When mailing a check, limit risk by ensuring that the mail service receives the check. First, double-check the sending address to ensure it is going to the intended destination and there are no errors.
Afterward, make sure you reduce the opportunity for others to access it. If you place it in your mailbox with the flag raised or leave it in the outgoing mail in an office or apartment complex, other people could take it before it even gets to the mail carrier.
A blue mail deposit box is a safer bet, but not infallible. If you are concerned about someone breaking in there and stealing mail, you can always check the time of the latest pickup on the box and ensure your check is there just before to reduce the time someone could get at it.
For best results, take it to the post office and hand it to an employee, or hand it to your mail carrier when they arrive to pick up the mail.
Restrict the Check
One technique that makes it harder for thieves to cash a stolen check is restricting it. You can write “For deposit only” on the back of the check, near where the signature goes. Ideally, the bank employee would notice this and deny anyone wishing to cash the check outright.
Any thief would likely be wary about depositing the money into a personal account, even with forged credentials, as that leaves a paper trail for authorities to follow, putting them at risk of being caught.
Nonetheless, there’s still a chance that the bank clerk may not notice and could cash the check anyhow, so this is not a foolproof option.
Use Certified Mail and Track the Check
Another precaution to safeguard your mailed check is to use certified mail. This technique means that the recipient must sign a receipt when they receive it, which is then sent back to you as verification. Once more, there is the possibility that someone could forge a signature, but every little step leads to a greater chance that your check will make it through unscathed.
You can also purchase a shipping label online or at the post office, which will provide you with a tracking number. This is handy for determining whether the check has reached its destination and when it does so. You can then check your account to determine when the check clears.
Use a Cashier’s Check
Cashier’s checks are unique because they use additional security measures that make it harder to steal, forge, or duplicate stolen checks. You can get one by visiting your bank in person and requesting one or using your bank’s online services to do the same if they offer the option.
What do I do if my Check is Lost or Stolen?
While following the above suggestions will make it difficult for this to happen, it is still in the realm of possibility that your check could be lost or stolen. The best action plan is to act swiftly to prevent the situation from escalating.
If you suspect that the worst-case scenario has occurred, the first step is contacting your bank to stop payment. Of course, before you do that, it is wise to attempt to reach the intended recipient to make sure they do not have the check in their possession but just haven’t gotten around to cashing it.
If they did not receive it, you might be at risk for identity theft, so observe your accounts. If you see evidence of this, promptly freeze any affected or at-risk accounts and contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to report the crime. You can also contact any of the three major credit bureaus to ask them to place a fraud report on your credit report.
The Bottom Line
If you are worried about sending a check through the mail, remember that there are other payment options available; you should consider using an alternative method. There are bank transfers, debit and credit card options, online payment portals, and transfer services such as Venmo.
However, if it is not a possibility, then take precautions to ensure that the check falls into only trustworthy hands and that it is difficult for thieves to detect the check within an envelope or cash it if they can steal it.
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