What is Check Washing? (with photos)

Money laundering is a crime that can lead to arrest and prosecution.

Check laundering is an unsophisticated but generally effective form of fraud in which information on a legitimate check is chemically or electronically erased, allowing a criminal to rewrite the check amount and the name of the payee. While there may be some defenses, such as electronic inks and hidden watermarks, to protect against such fraud, the technique works because many recipients accept the check at face value because of the legitimacy of the signature. Because rudimentary methods can easily damage a paper check, many crooks spoil more checks than they can cash.

Laundered-altered checks can be rewritten for large sums of money.

The washing process is not especially difficult, although results can vary widely. In a typical operation, a legitimate check is prepared by placing a protective seal over the signature line. It can be a low adhesive tape or a sticker. The check is then held up with tweezers and placed in a pan that usually contains acetone (nail polish remover), paint thinner, or bleach. The chemical dissolves many types of ink found in standard ballpoint pens. Once the ink on the check has completely dissolved, the check is hung up to air dry. The result, ideally, is a signed blank check, which the crook can rewrite to suit his needs.

Bleach and other chemicals are used to wash checks by hand.

A popular method of obtaining legitimate checks for check laundering is to drive through neighborhoods and secretly inspect outgoing mail left in mailboxes by the curb. Payroll checks and bill payments are especially popular targets. Sophisticated crooks are known to carry laptop computers, laminating machines, scanners and state-of-the-art printers in their vehicles that allow them to create fake IDs to cash batches of laundered checks.

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A checkbook.

The main problem with this type of fraud is creating a truly blank check. The ink contained in a standard blue ballpoint pen is easily removed with acetone, but black ink can be problematic. Experts say that gel pens with black ink provide the best protection from washing the check, as the gel ink resists chemical removal and contains pigments that permeate the fibers of the check itself. A washed check cannot be used if it appears to be altered or faded.

Acetone, often used in nail polish remover, is sometimes used to wash checks.

One way for people to protect themselves against this type of fraud is to switch from blue ink to black ink when writing checks and using a gel pen whenever possible. Additional security measures include taking bills and other mailed items containing checks directly to a post office or public mailbox. A padlocked personal mailbox can also discourage strangers from stealing mail, but this type of mailbox may not be usable for sending letters. Many experts recommend that people invest in checks that contain anti-fraud elements, such as electronic inks, hidden watermarks, or microprinted lines that cannot be clearly photocopied or scanned.

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