Monday, November 17, 2014

November PSA: Who are you, and who are they?



It's funny, because I had planned to write something about what we dread, and why we shouldn't. I mean, we're all prepared for what we dread. We get out the catcher's mitt, strap on the vest, and crouch there, eyes trained on the pitcher's mound or third base.

But that which hits the noggin always sails from right field.

So, someone, somewhere along the line -- between the Altadena post office and its ultimate destination -- stole my check to a credit card company, and changed the name from XXX Credit Card company, to a Gertie N-something, and cashed it. Which at first I thought highly unlikely. I wrote the credit card company name in the Pay-to line, and the account number in the memo section.

But it turns out, it's relatively easy for someone to hijack your check and "wash" everything you wrote on the check except the date and your sig. Did you know that? I didn't.

The good news is, if your account has been robbed in such a way, you are not liable, and the bank's fraud division will pretty much handle the whole mess. The bad news is, restitution won't happen overnight.

Should check fraud happen to you, here's what I have to offer:

1. Call the bank. You'll be talking to someone off-shore. It'll be kind of awful, and you'll be left thinking -oh fuck, I'm stuck with the loss and have to lodge some lame claim at the local Sheriff's Department. Not true. Call. Get it on your file. Over and out.

2. Visit a living, breathing bank branch manager. Trust me on this -- whoever you meet will practically hold your hand and guide you through the whole process.

3. You probably won't see the $$'s returned for another month. And you'll have to cover the money in question during the interim.

4. There will be paperwork; you'll have to sign stuff. Time. It'll take time. And much as banks want us to do everything online, when it comes to anything they deem important, information must travel, back and forth, via US mail. Go figure.

PS: If you live in Altadena, apparently there's active theft going on in the mailboxes outside the Altadena Post Office on Lake Street. Don't know why the Sheriff's Dept hasn't addressed this issue. In any case, beware.

Additional PS: If you still write paper checks, gel pens are your best bet to fight the "wash." In Altadena, Hoopla! on Fair Oaks has them in stock, and owner Lori Webster specifically recommends the brand Signo. For more info on gel pens, check out the comments.

30 comments:

  1. I wouldn't write a credit card number on check in the future, either; it's too easy to charge stuff over the internet or on the phone without having the card in hand, although they'd probably have to guess the expiration date. We've had enough check-washing on our block that no one puts bills out for the mail carrier to pick up any more; we drop 'em in a mailbox, although I'm sure some clever sociopath has figured out how to fish that mail out, too...sigh.

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  2. Not sure if this is why the Sheriffs aren't on it, but the Post Office has their own law enforcement group - Postal Inspection Service https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/ - who I believe deal with theft from mailboxes.

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  3. Last I heard you have to use a gel pe othwise they take the check and saturate in some witches brew which dissolves the ink but doesn't harm the check.

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  4. Gel pen. Ima typing with one finger on my tablet just not very well.

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  5. Apparently. I just can say, it makes you feel all invaded, icky, awful. As in, get your creepy hands out of my life.

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  6. Wow. Had no clue about check washing. And I use the mail box on Lake outside the PO and another on Allen all the time. Now I am very nervous. You feel invaded? You betcha! You were.

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  7. Among water-based inks, remember that gels are the most impervious. But when you're writing checks to pay the monthly bills, only one type of ink, the kind in gel pens, has been found to be counterfeit proof to acetone or any other chemical used in "check washing." Most ballpoint and marker "Inks are dye based, meaning that the pigments are dissolved in the ink.

    Based on recent ink security studies, we highly recommend that you use a gel pen, like the Uniball 207 that uses gel ink that contains tiny particles of color that are trapped into the paper, making check washing a lot more difficult. The pen sells for about $2" ckfraud.org

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  8. This is my favorite pen. Other people like it too, apparently, because I had a hard time finding it in the local office supply stores recently. But Amazon has it.
    http://amzn.to/14ClSYM

    I pay all my bills online. I don't know if it's safer. I only hope I'm not being cavalier about it.

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  9. Thanks for the heads-up -- and for suggestions of gel pens.

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  10. Really, it seems the Sheriff's Dept could at least put up a sign near the post office mailboxes that says, "Mail consistently stolen from here over the past six months. We don't give a shit, but you probably should."

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  11. Well, at least YOU are on the case. Your post reminds me of that movie, "Catch Me If You Can".

    By the way, how did your 'talk' go?

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  12. The bank must require correspondence to be sent via USPS because that's the only way to send legal paperwork. Really! Lawyers use the hell out of the post office; evidently, UPS and Fedex are not "reliable proof" that something has been delivered. I always mail my own personal bills, plus those for my company, from my post office right here the town that doesn't deliver and can't find the big freakin' house 1/4 mile from them. My kids all use online payment, but that makes me nervous. And now I'm off to find a gel pen for check writing.

    As for calling overseas, you probably use one of those giant conglomerate banks, maybe the one with the stagecoach or the red white and blue logo? Yeah, the stagecoach place sucks, having some business dealings with them and tolerating their so-called customer service. My bank is across the street from my office, and if I call one of 2 VPs I know there, they will take care of anything for me, without dialing overseas. And they assure me they don't have an overseas call center, so I don't have to hunt up another bank...yet.

    I hope your problem gets resolved soon, and doesn't recur.

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  13. And thanks for the gel pen link, Petrea; I have one of those in my pen cup, and just ordered another dozen.

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  14. You can probably find other types of gel pens locally, but I get used to using a pen and it's the one I want, dammit.

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  15. Went to buy some gel pens from my local store and they're all out. "We had a run on gel pens today, and they're on back order." Thanks Paula and Petrea -- most valuable takeaway from this whole experience.

    And I know some swear by online banking. But I found having a paper trail to match up w/the bank's e-records comforting and helpful.

    Birdman, the reading went really well.

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  16. I'm with you on the paper trail. I have had to prove that I did pay something enough times to value cancelled checks - especially with taxes or credit card bills. Plus, the accountant can never say you can't prove it if you have the paper trail there.

    Glad your reading went well.

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  17. This event bothers me so much, I find it hard to excavate it from the forefront of my mind. Apparently, banks lose $1 billion dollars a year to check washing. Why don't banks include a flyer about gel pens in every bank statement? And why, when you open a new account, isn't your little present a gel pen, rather than a doughnut?

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  18. I have never heard of this before so I'm a bit freaked out. Will have to look into gel pens.
    Glad the talk went well. I didn't want to ask. ;-)

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  19. I'm the same, Karin. I need the paper trail. It's easier to have it on hand than having to go back and find it if the IRS wants it three years from now.

    You can receive your bills in the mail and still pay them online. I don't use my bank's online payment service (too slow). I go to the website of the creditor and pay it right there. The payment is immediate.

    The one thing I don't get in paper is bank statements, but that's because my bank doesn't offer them. I can download them and print them out myself.

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  20. I'm really shocked that this could happen. Who's ever heard of washing checks? I thought money laundering was something entirely different. Last year the UK tried to eliminate checks,as hardly anyone uses them, but some charities protested.
    I agree with you that someone needs to put up a sign by the mailbox that's being tampered with. It could perhaps be a postal service employee? One mailman in England often stole our birthday cards,looking for gift checks in them.

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  21. Seriously? There isn't enough going on in the world that now we have to worry about mailing checks?! I am indignant on your behalf. I've seen "Catch Me If You Can" but thought check washing was old school. I will take your experience to heart and, while I have never been a fan, will get in a supply of gel pens. This is indeed a PSA and I thank you.

    Glad to hear your talk went well:)

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  22. The depravity in our midst . . . .

    Some courts are allowing e-signed documents, but not all. And given your experience, it might be prudent to require a "wet" signature in blue ink.

    Good to hear about your reading. One of the small blessings in life comes when, after a good result, one can reflect that all that worrying beforehand was for nothing.

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  23. Sorry you got robbed. Thanks for the Teri shot!

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  24. How lovely that you in Canada, Maine, Washington, Penn, and New Yawwwwk, would care about my reading. Warms the heart, it does.

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  25. Hope to hear about the reading soon, especially with your sometime strange 'take' on our lives.

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  26. I'm sorry you got robbed, Karin.
    Thanks for the alert and also for the suggestions of gel pens.

    Wishing you a lovely weekend.

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  27. Hello Karin,
    Just stopping by so say hello!
    Wishing you a nice week ahead. :)

    PS: I see that on some blogs friends, like my blog and your blog, there is now a "Word Verification" on Comments. I know that you and me don't choose word verificarion on our Settings. Do you have any clue why it is happens?

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  28. Hi Karin,
    My blog friend Theresa, from "The Run*A*Round Ranch Report, help me with the word verification inconvenience. If we want to stop the word verification from appearing, we have to choose 'embedded' comment form instead of 'pop-up'. Also we should be able to hit publish and ignore the word verification and it should put out comment through.

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  29. That sucks! Sorry it happened to you.
    Several years ago, a box of checks was stolen out of our mailbox on a Friday morning.
    Almost every check in the box was used within three days. They had a fake driver's license made with somebody else's photo on it, by Saturday morning and started going to town. We didn't have to pay any of the bills, but it killed our credit for a while and made it hard to pay for anything unless we used cash.

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