Check fraud is on the rise. Here’s what you need to know and how to avoid it : NPR

check fraud has skyrocketed in the us. uu. As thieves use age-old tricks to scam Americans into selling fake checks on the dark web, a monitoring group has discovered.

mail-related check fraud has been on the rise since August, according to the evidence-based cybersecurity research group at georgia state university, which has been tracking the trend.

and warns that it’s quite easy for criminals to get their hands on your checks.

“Some of them just go to your mailbox at home and take the mail you left for the post office to pick up,” said David Maimon, an associate professor of criminal justice and criminology at Georgia State University and director of tests- cybersecurity research group.

“others just go to the blue boxes with the keys they might have stolen from some of the mail carriers, empty the boxes and get the checks some of us send to our utility companies or our loved ones when you want to send a gift , it’s that easy.”

The cybersecurity group found an average of 1,325 stolen checks for sale each week during October. this was more than double what it saw in September, when the average was 634 per week, and triple the average of 409 in August.

writing in the conversation, maimon said that these numbers were just a snapshot of the 60 markets his group monitored and that thousands of darknet markets are in operation. He estimates the face value of the checks his group found in October, as written, to be $11.6 million, but again, this was only a small part of the total amount.

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how thieves use checks

Once they have the checks in hand, criminals do a little old-school editing before selling them, Maimon said.

“They take the check. They take a screenshot just in case. And then they use nail polish remover to remove the payee as well as the amount the victim basically wrote on a check,” Maimon said. “Once they have that, they take another photo and then upload the photo with the clean check to various darknets as well as encrypted communication platforms that facilitate underground online fraud markets.”

Banks are usually good at replacing stolen money when this happens, but stolen identities can also be part of the scam and are often more difficult to fix.

Checks include name and address information used by criminals as part of identity theft. They can open bank accounts and apply for loans in the victim’s name, Maimon said.

“They’re printing and fabricating fake IDs, using the victim’s information and just incorporating different images to go along with the fake driver’s license or passport or whatever,” he said.

the modern spin on fraud checking

Check fraud itself isn’t new, but it’s the sale of these checks on the dark web that gives this story a more modern twist. Maimon said his group’s monitoring of darknet markets is what allowed them to see this trend.

As to why this is happening now, Maimon has a few hypotheses.

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“After we started talking about what we’re seeing on various platforms, we were contacted by people who work with USPS inspectors who told us that USPS defunded inspectors,” Maimon said.

He said this may have led to fewer inspectors monitoring the ubiquitous blue collection boxes, making them more vulnerable to attack. he said that he had not taken his finds to the us. uu. postal service directly.

in a statement, us. The postal service told npr that mail theft like this falls under the jurisdiction of postal inspectors.

“the u.s. postal inspection service takes its role in safeguarding america very seriously and will continue to aggressively pursue perpetrators who use the u.s. mail system to further their illegal activities” , the agency said.

“Every day, the US Postal Service safely and efficiently delivers millions of checks, money orders, credit cards and merchandise. Unfortunately, these items are also attractive to thieves and that’s why that postal inspectors across the country work to protect your mail.”

If you’re worried about mailing your checks and don’t want to use an online or bill pay service like Venmo or PayPal, Maimon has some advice.

“I think what people want to do if they want to prevent this crime from happening and avoid being a victim of this crime is to just go to the nearest post office store and just deliver their mail to the carrier there,” he said.

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