A stolen check scheme in Chicago, called “check washing,” exploded during the pandemic and has grown worse in the last year, reports David Struett for the Chicago Sun-Times. Thieves steal checks from mailboxes, erase the ink using household chemicals, then rewrite the check to a different person and cash it at an ATM or currency exchange. Criminals also typically rob letter carriers for their master keys, which can open mailboxes on the street and in building lobbies within an entire ZIP code.
Keys are sold online for $800 to $2,500, depending on how lucrative a ZIP code is. The Evidence-Based Cybersecurity Research Group at Georgia State University, which monitors more than 60 underground websites to track stolen checks for sale, found more than 1,000 checks from victims in Illinois for sale on the dark web from December through May. So far this year, more than 17,000 cases of check fraud have been reported in Illinois — compared to 13,000 cases in all of 2021, and 5,360 cases in 2014.