Check fraud may seem like an outdated crime in today’s world of digital payments, but it’s surging, according to an alert sent to banks by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (a bureau within the US Department of the Treasury). Last year, banks filed 680,000 reports of check fraud, nearly double that of the year before.

How it happens: Criminals remove checks you are sending from your mailbox or fish them out of the US Postal Service’s blue collection boxes. They use chemicals to wash away the ink spelling out the name of the “payee” and the dollar amount, then write in a fraudulent payee and amount, and deposit the check into an account they control.

Banks typically are liable when they accept forged or altered checks—but it can take a bank weeks or months to determine whether a claim of fraud is legitimate and return the missing money to your account. Self-defense…

Sign checks with indelible black-ink pens.

Don’t leave outgoing mail in your residential mailbox overnight, and don’t raise the flag on your box. Instead, stand your outgoing mail up, leaning it against the inside of the box so the mailman notices it.

Drop mail in a USPS blue collection box close to the last scheduled pick-up time, and make sure the mail slot is fitted with security “teeth” to prevent envelopes from being fished out.

Regularly review your bank activity and copies of your checks online to ensure they have not been altered. You usually have 30 to 60 days from the date of your last bank statement to report unauthorized checks.

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