Other, more high-tech fixes are also being considered, Mr. Martel said, but he couldn’t offer a timeline for updates. There are “thousands upon thousands” of postal boxes, he said, and upgrades must be engineered and tested before being deployed.
“The Postal Inspection Service,” he said, “takes the sanctity of the U.S. mail very seriously.”
Here are questions and answers related to check fraud via the mail:
Am I liable for funds taken from my account with a washed check?
No, said Mr. Benda of the American Bankers Association. Consumers are not liable for fraudulent or counterfeit checks. “The bank will make you whole,” he said. (Depending on the state, customers usually have 30 to 60 days from the date of their last bank statement to report unauthorized checks.)
But banks must investigate reported fraud and sort out which institution is liable for the loss, so the time it takes to return your money may vary. Customers may request a provisional credit while the inquiry proceeds, Mr. Benda said.
American Banker, a trade publication, reported last year that smaller banks had complained that because of increased fraud, big banks were dragging their feet on covering the funds from stolen checks, taking weeks or months to pay.
Should I avoid mailing checks?
Yes. “We really recommend that if you can, use electronic payment methods,” Mr. Benda said.
If you must mail a check, it’s best to walk into a post office and drop it in the lobby mail slot or hand it to a postal worker. “It’s risky to use the blue boxes,” Dr. Maimon said.
If you have to use a blue box, drop in the check before the day’s last scheduled pickup so it doesn’t sit in the box overnight. Don’t put checks in your home mailbox for pickup and raise the little flag to alert carriers, which signals to potential thieves that there’s something inside.
Monitor your bank account online regularly to confirm the checks that have been cashed and to see if anything seems suspicious. “You need to be an advocate for yourself and check your account,” said Amy Nofziger, director of victim support for AARP Fraud Watch Network.