With check fraud surging across the nation, the Illinois Bankers Association (IBA) is sharing tips for consumers to protect themselves, and their bank accounts, from fraudulent activity this holiday season.
Check fraud is one of the most common forms of identity theft. Criminals target their victims with sophisticated schemes that can involve a legitimate payment request, a blank check stolen from a checkbook, a previously paid or canceled check found in the garbage, or a check placed in the mailbox to pay a bill. In addition to wiping out bank accounts, this form of identity theft can also tarnish the victim’s credit report.
A report from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) found that banks issued roughly 680,000 reports of check fraud last year, marking a significant increase from the 350,000 reports made in 2021. The U.S. Postal Service has also reported an unprecedented increase in mail theft and check fraud, launching a nationwide effort to crack down on thefts and violence against postal employees.
In Illinois, check fraud has increased dramatically in recent years. Data shows that 26,294 Illinois consumers and businesses fell victim to check fraud in 2022, a 104 percent increase from 2021, and a 390 percent increase over the last decade. This year is already on track to match or exceed the 2022 total, with 22,476 cases reported in Illinois through October.
There are steps consumers can take to protect their checkbook, including:
- Ordering checks from a reputable source
- Properly disposing of checks
- Safeguarding checks and account information
- Imprinting digital checks with a bold font that is difficult to alter
- Tracking and monitoring bank accounts regularly
- Filling checks out properly and completely while avoiding abbreviations
- Mailing checks at the post office instead of using mailboxes
If consumers suspect suspicious behavior, they should contact their bank immediately.
“During the holiday season, increased shopping activity and heightened distractions can render individuals particularly vulnerable to check fraud,” said Randy Hultgren, president and CEO of the Illinois Bankers Association. “The impact of check fraud can be exceptionally devastating to families struggling to get through the holidays amid high inflation or small businesses seeking stability after years of pandemic-related disruptions. The tactics used by these criminals are constantly evolving, and Illinois bankers are encouraging consumers to stay informed and vigilant.”
The IBA encourages consumers to reach out to their financial institutions or visit Illinois.bank for more information about security features and safety tips.