Help! Someone Forged My Signature On a Check and Cashed It

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J.R. Tietsort

Chief Information Security Officer at Aura

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    What Can Scammers Do With a Stolen Check? 

    Rudy Markard had heard of check forgery, but he never thought he would be a victim. That all changed when someone stole a $42 check that Rudy had sent to pay his phone bill — and used it to withdraw $7,000 from the veteran’s bank account [*].

    Check fraud may seem old-fashioned, but it’s still a lucrative scam for fraudsters. 

    According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there were nearly 40,000 reports of check fraud in 2021 — costing Americans $78 million [*].

    The good news is that check fraud losses are often covered by your bank. Unfortunately, numerous other scams — that fraudsters can commit using your checking account details — are not covered.

    A physical check can give scammers enough information to steal your identity and drain your bank account. 

    If you think (or know) that someone has forged a check in your name, it’s imperative that you act quickly to protect your finances and identity. In this guide, we’ll explain exactly what to do if someone forged your signature on a check and then cashed it. 

    What Is Check Forgery? How Do Scammers Cash Stolen Checks? 

    Check forgery is a classic scam that has existed for as long as checks have existed. However, check fraud has increased in recent years because scammers have discovered that forging a check is easier than bypassing a bank’s digital fraud protection. 

    The Federal Reserve estimates that more than 3.5 billion check transactions took place in 2021 — giving scammers plenty of opportunities to defraud you [*]. 

    Here’s how a common check forgery scam works: 

    • Scammers break into mailboxes to intercept checks.  Fraudsters steal mail, force their way into public mailboxes, or even steal arrow keys from the U.S. Postal Service. There have even been reports of criminals robbing mail carriers at gunpoint for mailbox keys and mail [*].
    • Next, they use special solvents to erase the check’s content. The check “washing” process involves specialty chemicals that remove pen ink — but leave the check intact. This gives the scam artist a blank slate for writing a new check from your account.
    • Finally, they write themselves in as the beneficiaries. Scammers write in their own names as the check recipient and cash the check. They avoid banks and institutions that will collect their personal data, even if it means paying a commission on the check.

    In another scenario, fraudsters steal checks written to you and forge your signature to cash your checks. This kind of check fraud requires no chemical solvents or washing process – just the ability to sign your name convincingly.

    Some fraudsters avoid cashing stolen checks in their own names. Instead, they sell stolen checks online in Dark Web marketplaces. These checks – called “glass” in criminal slang – can sell for as much as $250. They may include personal data such as your bank account information, Social Security number (SSN), and more. 

    Take action: If scammers have access to your bank account number and personal information, they can take out loans or open new accounts in your name. Try Aura’s top-rated identity theft protection free for 14 days and secure your finances and identity against fraudsters.

    What To Do If You’re the Victim of Check Washing

    1. Contact your bank immediately and fill out an affidavit
    2. Close or place a hold on your checking account
    3. Reach out to the person or company that wrote you the check
    4. File a police report for the missing or stolen checks and mail
    5. Contact check verification companies to prevent the fraud from impacting your credit score
    6. Ask your bank what identification was used to cash the check
    7. Freeze your credit with all three credit bureaus
    8. Report the theft and fraud to the FTC
    9. Check your credit reports for further signs of fraud
    10. Consider signing up for identity theft protection with credit monitoring

    If a check forger or identity thief has access to your physical checks, bank account information, or personal data, you need to act right away. 

    Here’s what to do if you think you’ve been the victim of check forgery or washing.

    1. Contact your bank immediately and fill out an affidavit

    Your bank needs to know that someone has cashed a fraudulent check in your name. 

    Contact your financial institution’s fraud department and explain what happened. They’ll most likely ask you to complete an Affidavit of Check Fraud. This is a legal document that states the check was forged. In most cases, this form must be notarized by a Notary Public. 

    A completed affidavit establishes what type of fraud occurred and is an essential document when disputing fraudulent transactions on your account. 

    Here’s what to do:

    • Contact your bank as soon as you notice fraudulent activity on your account. Ask to speak to a check fraud specialist. If necessary, go to the bank personally and bring along personal identification and any information regarding the fraud. 
    • Fill out the affidavit and ask the bank how it will conduct its investigation. Federal law requires banks and credit unions to complete fraud investigations within 10-20 business days [*]. 
    • They then have one business day to correct errors, and another three days to report their findings to you. If your bank fails to meet these deadlines, it has to issue temporary credit to you while it continues the investigation.

    💡 Related: How To Avoid the Worst Bank Scams of 2023

    2. Close or place a hold on your checking account 

    Leaving your account open may expose you to further fraud and unauthorized charges. You should ask your bank to close the account or place a temporary hold on it. Be prepared to provide your account information and identification, as well as the reason for closing the account. 

    Here’s what to do:

    • Determine whether you want to close your account or place a temporary hold on it. If you close your account, you’ll need to cancel any automatic payments or direct deposits linked to the account.
    • If you close your account entirely, you may consider opening a new checking account with a different bank. Be sure to choose an account that offers strong security features, such as two-factor authentication (2FA) and transaction alerts. 

    3. Reach out to the person or company that wrote you the check

    If someone fraudulently cashes a check addressed to you, it’s important to reach out to the person or company that wrote the check to determine how it ended up in the scammer’s hands. 

    This information can help assist the bank’s investigation and ultimately lead to you getting reimbursed for the stolen funds. 

    Here’s what to do:

    • Ask to see the check that was addressed to you. Request details about how the check was sent, and pay attention to details such as postal boxes and mail routes.
    • If you know the person who cashed the check in your name, tell the bank’s fraud investigators. If you don’t recognize the name, try to find public information about the culprit. You may have more success gaining information than the bank’s fraud team, especially if the check came from a personal acquaintance rather than a business.

    4. File a police report for the missing or stolen checks and mail

    Possessing a stolen check is a crime. But the severity of that crime depends on multiple factors. For example, stealing a U.S. Treasury check brings more severe consequences than stealing a personal check because it involves U.S. Government property.

    No matter the situation, you should file a police report for the stolen check and mail as well as for identity theft.

    Stealing mail is also a federal crime, separate from the check fraud [*]. If someone stole your mail to obtain a check, they may face up to five years in prison time. Check fraud law treats all of these crimes as separate, distinct events. Filing a police report lets law enforcement personnel clear information about each individual crime that occurred.

    Here’s what to do:

    • Take your Affidavit of Check Fraud to the police station and ask to file a report. Explain what happened, and provide any evidence that you gathered from the bank or the person who issued the check. 
    • Make sure that you also file a report for identity theft. This can help you dispute fraudulent charges and close new accounts that the scammers opened in your name. 

    💡 Related: How To Protect Your Bank Account From Identity Theft

    5. Contact check verification companies to prevent the fraud from impacting your credit score

    Banks and financial institutions rely on third-party check verification companies to authenticate checks. These companies offer specialized services designed to catch fraudulent checks and prevent repeat crimes from occurring.

    If you are a victim of check fraud, there is a good chance scammers will attempt to steal from you again in the future. Telling check verification companies to stop payment on checks from you may prevent additional fraud.

    Here’s what to do:

    • In most cases, you can ask your bank to notify their check verification partner and request that they not accept checks made in your name. However, that won’t prevent scammers from attempting to use other banks and defraud you. The safest thing to do is to reach out to these companies on your own.
    • Contact TeleCheck’s fraud and forgery line at +1 (800) 710-9898 or report the forgery online.
    • Contact Certegy at 1-800-237-3826 and ask to speak with a check fraud specialist.

    💡 Related: What Happens If You Unknowingly Deposit a Fake Check?

    6. Ask your bank what identification was used to cash the check

    Your bank may not immediately accept responsibility for cashing a fraudulent check. An uncooperative bank may try to deflect blame onto other banks, partner organizations, or even you. You may have to prove that you’re not responsible for the error that allowed check fraud to occur in the first place.

    One way you can do this is by examining how the check was cashed. Find out where scammers cashed the forged check and how they verified their identity. This may prove to be a crucial detail. Banks don’t always have to physically examine every check they process, but they must diligently check peoples’ identities before cashing checks.

    Aura free Dark Web scanner

    Some banks explicitly deny responsibility for cashing fraudulent checks. If your bank doesn’t accept responsibility, you may have to fight an uphill battle to get reimbursed for your loss. Be aware that the bank may suspect you are involved in the scam, and that you knew the check was a forgery.

    Here’s what to do:

    • Ask your bank’s fraud specialist for as much information about the check as possible.
    • Focus on whether the bank followed the appropriate protocol when accepting the fraudulent check.
    • Request that the bank not penalize you for being a victim of check fraud.
    Take action: If criminals have your physical ID or a forgery, they could steal your identity, drain your bank account, and take out loans in your name. Try Aura free for 14 days to monitor and secure your most sensitive information and accounts against scammers. 

    7. Freeze your credit with all three credit bureaus

    Your checks contain a great deal of information about you that scammers can use to open new accounts and take out loans in your name. This adds identity theft to the check fraud scenario.

    Freezing your credit with all three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) can stop fraudsters from opening new accounts in your name. A credit freeze is free and won’t impact your credit score. However, you will need to unfreeze your credit before you can apply for a new loan, mortgage, or credit card. 

    Here’s how to request a credit freeze with each bureau: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

    Alternatively, you can instantly lock and unlock your credit file by using an identity theft protection service like Aura. Learn more about how Aura keeps your finances and identity secure.

    Aura one-click credit lock

    8. Report the theft and fraud to the FTC

    Fighting check fraud is an ongoing battle to prove your innocence and get reimbursed. One tool that can help significantly is an official identity theft report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 

    An FTC identity theft report acts as proof that you’re the victim of identity theft. You can use it when filing reports, closing fraudulent accounts, or disputing transactions. You’ll also get a personalized recovery plan with legal advice that is unique to your situation. 

    You should also file an official fraud complaint with the FTC. This won’t directly help you resolve your case, but it can help prevent future fraud by informing law enforcement around the country about how you were scammed. 

    Here’s what to do:

    • To file an identity theft report: Go to IdentityTheft.gov and click “Get Started.” Click on “I want to report another type of identity theft.” Choose the “Debit, checking, or savings accounts” option. Check all the options that apply to your case, and explain the details.
    • To report the fraud: Go to ReportFraud.ftc.gov and click on Report Now. Fill out the form and explain the details of your check fraud case. Your case may involve “An impersonator” or “Credit, debt, loan.” Click the situation that applies and fill out the application.

    9. Check your credit reports for further signs of fraud

    If fraudsters forged your signature on a check, they could have enough of your personal information to put you at higher risk of identity theft. Protect yourself by proactively and regularly checking your credit report for new accounts, transactions, or hard inquiries that you don’t recognize. 

    Here’s what to do:

    • Download a free credit report from all three bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com (You can get free weekly credit reports until the end of 2023). You can also request your credit reports by mail or over the phone by calling 877-322-8228.
    • Look through the report for activity you don’t recognize. If you see something suspicious, contact the agency listed on the report and provide your FTC identity theft report information. 

    💡 Related: How To Remove Hard Inquiries From Your Credit Report

    10. Consider signing up for identity theft protection with credit monitoring

    Check fraud is not always preventable. If scammers gain physical access to your checks, they may wash them, copy them, and cash them despite your best efforts. Your bank will try to catch these fraud attempts – but it may not succeed.

    You can limit the potential damage by using an identity theft protection service with credit monitoring. 

    Aura's fraud alerts are up to 4x faster than the competition

    For example, Aura constantly monitors your bank and investment accounts, as well as your credit report, for signs of fraud. And because Aura has direct connections to the credit bureaus, you’ll be alerted up to 4x faster if someone is trying to take out loans or open new accounts in your name.  

    Here’s what else you get with Aura:

    • Three-bureau credit monitoring in near real-time. Aura monitors your credit score and transactions at all three major credit bureaus — to ensure that nothing gets missed.
    • Transaction monitoring for your bank and investment accounts. Set transaction limits and get alerted if someone is trying to steal your money or transfers funds.
    • Top-rated identity theft protection. Aura monitors your personal information — such as your name, Social Security number (SSN), and more — across the internet, Dark Web forums, and public records.
    • Powerful digital security tools. Aura proactively protects you against identity theft with antivirus software, Safe Browsing tools, a virtual private network (VPN), secure password manager, and more. 
    • 24/7 U.S.-based fraud resolution specialists. If you have any questions or need help recovering from fraud, Aura’s team of specialists is available 24/7 via phone or email. 
    • $1,000,000 insurance for eligible losses due to identity theft. If the worst should happen, every adult on your Aura plan is covered for up to $1 million in eligible losses. 

    Ready to try Aura for yourself? Start your free 14 day trial and get instant access to all of Aura’s comprehensive identity theft protection features →

    Are You Liable for the Money From a Forged Check?

    If someone uses a forged signature to cash a check in your name, you are not generally liable for the stolen funds. 

    However, most state laws and banking policies require you to first prove that you were a victim of fraud.

    Additionally, they may need to verify whether there was anything you could have done to prevent the fraud from happening.

    For example, if you sign a blank check and then lose it, the bank may argue that you deliberately exposed yourself to the risk of fraud. If someone writes their name on that check and cashes it, the bank probably won’t reimburse your money. The bank may claim it’s your fault because you failed to take ordinary care of your checkbook.

    Even if it’s not your fault, you may not be aware that someone has forged your signature on the check until the bank withdraws money from your account. That means you’ll have to convince the bank to return the stolen money to you. 

    The bank may claim it accepted the check in good faith and avoid taking responsibility for reimbursement. (The bank’s position may be supported with a disclaimer contained in the fine print of your checking account agreement.)

    This is why filing an FTC report is important. The government can compel uncooperative banks to pay back fraud victims. If your bank processed the check as an electronic transfer, federal law may provide you with additional protections. The bank will have to launch an investigation and report its findings to you in a timely manner.

    💡 Related: How To Identify a Fake Check (and What To Do)

    How To Protect Yourself Against Check Washing Scams

    • Use a gel pen when filling in checks. Gel pen ink resists check washing solvents better than regular ballpoint pens [*]. 
    • Never leave outgoing checks in unsecured mailboxes. Deliver written checks in person whenever possible.
    • Make sure not to mail checks after the last pickup of the day. If you have to mail a check, time your drop-off so that the check gets picked up quickly.
    • Keep your checkbook in a safe and secure place. Avoid taking your entire checkbook with you when you’re away from home. 
    • Monitor your bank account and statements for signs of fraud. Dispute suspicious withdrawals and payments as soon as you notice them.
    • Only order checks from reputable sources. Not all checks offer the same security features. Ask your bank for their recommendation about where you should buy blank checks.

    The Bottom Line: Protect Your Finances From Fraudsters

    If someone steals your check and forges your signature, you could lose more than money — your identity could be stolen as well. 

    Stay safe by safeguarding your mailbox, checkbook, and identity against scammers. For additional security, consider signing up for Aura’s credit monitoring and digital security solution to warn you of suspicious activity and help you shut down fraudsters before it’s too late. 

    Secure your finances from fraudsters. Try Aura free for 14 days

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    1. Financial identity theft and fraud
    2. Medical identity theft
    3. Child identity theft
    4. Elder fraud and estate identity theft
    5. “Friendly” or familial identity theft
    6. Employment identity theft
    7. Criminal identity theft
    8. Tax identity theft
    9. Unemployment and government benefits identity theft
    10. Synthetic identity theft
    11. Identity cloning
    12. Account takeovers (social media, email, etc.)
    13. Social Security number identity theft
    14. Biometric ID theft
    15. Crypto account takeovers