MILWAUKEE -- If you pay for bills or other things with a check, watch out. If you are not careful, you could get taken by an altered check scheme.
We recently heard from a consumer who paid for a service with a personal check, only to learn that the check had been stolen, altered, and cashed for an amount that was 10 times the original amount. Altered check schemes can happen in a number of ways.
A criminal may steal a check from a recipient, and then alter the name of the payee, the amount it was written for, and the description. Or, they may steal a check from a person’s checkbook, forge a signature and then cash it.
You may not know this happened until you are alerted that your bank balance is far lower, you see a discrepancy on your bank statement, or a business or recipient tells you that they did not receive your check.
If you fall victim to this type of scheme or suspect something is wrong,
Contact your bank immediately. If the check has not been cashed, it may be wise to have a stop payment put in place. If the check was cashed, complete an affidavit and request that these funds be restored to your account.
You might also want to close the account. There is a lot of personal information on these checks including routing and account numbers that a criminal could use to cause more harm. It is also a good idea to alert the recipient. They may have other missing checks and customers who are affected.
To protect yourself from falling victim, keep your checks in a safe place. Make sure that the recipient is someone you can trust, and that the check will be handled in a secure manner with locked mailboxes and safe storage.
When writing a check, avoid leaving excess space in the number box or amount lines so that it is not as easy for a criminal to alter. Make a copy of the check or use duplicate checks so that you will have proof if something gets altered.
And, most important, keep a close eye on bank statements to spot and report suspicious activity in a timely manner