Fraud is pervasive. These days we need to be ever attentive to protect our identities and our money. Here are low tech things you can do to help protect yourself from becoming a victim.

Write Out the date

We frequently abbreviate dates. You don’t want to do this in 2020. Why? This year’s abbreviation is easily changed to any other year this century, potentially leading to theft and legal problems. A check dated 1/5/20, for example, can easily be changed to 1/5/2021 and cashed in the future (and possibly for a second time). Dates are important on documents, too. If you sign a contract where you agreed to make payments beginning 2/1/20, a dishonest person could alter the date to 2/1/2019 and try to claim back-payments.

Steps to take:

  • When handwriting the date on checks and on legal and business documents write it in full: January 22, 2020, vs 1/22/20.
  • Use checks with carbons and keep copies of any documents you signed and dated.

Frequent the Post Office

“Mailbox fishing” is a growing crime. This is when thieves steal checks, which they can alter and fraudulently cash, from unsecured mailboxes. Not only are checks fished from the mailbox at the bottom of your driveway, but they are also stolen from the big blue US Postal Service mailboxes with pull down handles.

To steal from USPS mailboxes, thieves attach sticky mousetraps to the end of wire, lower the wire into the box, and pull up all the envelopes caught by the trap. Once they have checks, the thieves “wash” them with a solvent to remove the payee and the amount. They can then make the washed check payable to someone else (who will get a cut of the amount cashed) and increase the payment amount. A check for $40 can be altered to $400.

Checks sent to you can be stolen while they sit in your unsecured mailbox waiting to be collected.

Steps to take

  • Mail checks (and other sensitive mail) by putting them in the mail slot in your Post Office lobby or by handing them to a uniformed USPS letter carrier.
  • Check at work to see whether there is a secure place from which you can send your mail.
  • Rent a USPS box or other secure locked mailbox in which to receive your mail.

Additional Steps you Can Take:

  • Pay bills online. Use services such as Zelle and Venmo to send money to other people.
  • When writing checks, fill in blank spaces after “Payee” and “Amount” with lines or XXs.
  • Use a gel ink pen. The ink will permeate the check paper making them harder to wash.
  • Monitor your bank account to verify the checks have been cashed or deposited for the correct amount.
  • Follow up with people who do not deposit your checks in a timely manner.

Make your Passwords Strong

Passwords are a fact of our digital lives. We need secure and unique passwords for banks, social media, medical records, investments, employee benefits, and everything else. Each of these accounts creates online exposure and potential for identity theft and fraud.

It’s important to use a unique password for every site and to make each password strong. Passwords need to be long and complex and devoid of personal information such as names of your children and pets. The longer the password, the more difficult it is for hackers to crack.

Steps to take

  • Create a unique strong password for every website or app you use. The password should have 10 to 12 characters: a mix of capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
  • Use a password manager such as LastPass, Dashlane or Keypass so you don’t need to remember them all. If you write them down on paper, keep the paper very secure.
  • For more tips on creating and managing passwords, see my blog post “Be Smart about Your Passwords.”

It is up to us to guard against fraud and theft. Writing out the date, being smart about mail, and using strong passwords are three things we can do help protect ourselves.

This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.