With the ways fraudsters get their hands on your money always changing, it pays to stay on top of these methods to ensure your financial safety. The advancement of technology has opened new doors for criminals to steal from you, but many are still implementing physical methods of theft to con you out of your hard-earned money. Three methods being used currently are software methods, Photoshop methods, and mailbox keys. Let’s learn a little more about each one.
Software method – This method occurs when a fraudster purchases a stolen image of a check, or even compromised personal information about a member’s account. They then obtain check writing software, like EZcheck, and use the stolen information to begin writing and cashing illicit checks.
Photoshop method – This method utilizes the same tactic of stealing images or information, but instead of using a software program to create an illegal check, the fraudster uses Photoshop to digitally alter the image. Using a check template, the fraudster manipulates the magnetic ink character recognition (MICR) line (the series of numbers on the bottom left corner on a check) so the funds from the check will be redirected to them personally.
Mailbox keys – This is an example of a physical method fraudsters use to obtain funds, as it involves intercepting checks sent through the mail. The fraudster either copies or obtains a valid key to a mailbox so they can access a member’s personal checks. This method is most commonly used through the United States Postal Service, and if fraudsters maintain a valid mailbox key, they can victimize the same location or person multiple times.
Another method members should be aware of is receiving calls from fraud protection companies like Geek Squad or Norton Security claiming they need access to a member’s computer and directing them to take out money and send it to a third party either through the mail, or by depositing it into a bitcoin kiosk. It is extremely important to verify the validity of these calls, as most financial institutions or security companies will not cold call you, and will opt for something more traceable and valid, like an official letter in the mail.
There have been over 500 stolen checks since March 2022 alone, many of which are sold on the stolen check market, and copies of mailbox keys can be sold through underground markets for as much as $3,000. With such a large market for fraudsters to capitalize off of, it’s important to know what to look for when verifying a check’s validity to ensure members’ money doesn’t end up in the wrong hands. Often times, a digital image of a check will feature an account or routing number that is cropped or obscured in some way, which is a telltale sign of fraud and evidence that the check’s validity should be looked into further. Members should always be aware of where they are mailing their checks, and only send them to a confirmed secure location. If employees at a financial institution notice check fraud happening on an account, stop payments should be placed on any outstanding checks, the account should be closed, and a new account should be issued to the member as soon as possible.