What to Do if Your Check is Lost or Stolen from the Mail

By Kim Franke-Folstad · March 06, 2023 · 11 minute read

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What to Do if Your Check is Lost or Stolen from the Mail

Writing checks may not be an everyday occurrence for you, but they are still a reliable form of payment that have a place in most people’s finances. So if you think a check you wrote got lost or was stolen, it’s important to report it to your bank ASAP and request to stop payment on it.

If you suspect there’s criminal activity afoot, you may also want to notify your local police. In addition, it becomes important to monitor your accounts and credit reports for any signs of identity theft.

By acting quickly, you could avoid major stress as well as financial loss.

Here, some key moves that can help if a check gets lost or stolen, including:

•   What if a check you sent was never cashed or deposited?

•   How do you report a lost or stolen check?

•   How to monitor your bank accounts?

•   How do you stop payment on a check?

•   How do you protect yourself from fraud or identity theft?

What if a Check You Sent Never Got Cashed or Deposited?

If you’re concerned because a check you sent hasn’t cleared your online bank account, you may want to start by contacting the recipient (whether it’s a person or business) to make sure they aren’t just sitting on it.

These days, electronic payments are processed so rapidly, we’ve become accustomed to seeing payments show up immediately on online bank statements.

If your paper check is slow to show, it could be that it’s still sitting on someone’s desk or in their wallet.

But what if the check never made it to its destination? It’s possible for checks to get lost in the mail or stolen, so there are steps you should take.

How to Report a Lost or Stolen Check

So if it does seem that a check has gone missing, here’s what to do.

Gather Details about the Check

Before you contact your bank or credit union, you may want to take a few minutes to gather as much information as you can about the check (or checks) that are MIA. This includes:

•   Your account number

•   The check number

•   The routing number

•   The name or names on the bank account

•   The exact name of the payee as you wrote it on the check

•   The check amount.

Contact Your Bank

With that information in hand, you can call your bank or visit your local branch to report the missing check and request a stop payment. Some financial institutions may allow you to do this online. See below for more details on stop payments.

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Monitoring Your Bank Accounts

If the bank didn’t receive the stop payment order in time or if the information you provided was incorrect, it still might process (or pay) the check.

So if you don’t already monitor your checking account online, you may want to start. For many people, monitoring your bank account a few times a week works well; daily if you think there’s reason for concern.

If you believe the bank cashed a check in error and you want to dispute it, it can help if you move as quickly as possible in order to avoid liability.

Some banks don’t impose time limits for customers to report fraudulent check cashing. But because stolen paper checks aren’t regulated by federal laws the way stolen debit and credit cards are, policies can vary from one bank to the next.

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Sending a New Payment

The person or business that didn’t receive your check is still going to be looking for that payment (or expecting that gift), so you’ll likely want to send a replacement as soon as possible.

However, you may want to consider using a more secure method for sending the second check. Keep in mind:

•   If the payee is a person or vendor who insists on personal checks, you might want to deliver the payment in person.

•   If you must mail a check, consider using certified mail. The cost is higher than regular mail, but you’ll get a receipt from the U.S. Postal Service when you send it, plus a notification when it’s delivered.

•   Or you could see if the payee will accept an online method of transferring money to another bank account.

Issuing a Stop Payment on a Check

If you do indeed wind up issuing a stop payment on a check that is lost in the mail or otherwise missing, here are points to keep in mind:

•   Fees for stopping a check vary from one bank to another but can run around $15 to $35. Some banks will waive the fee for customers with premium accounts, and some don’t charge fees if the missing checks are blank.

•   With a stop payment order, the bank flags the missing check number, and as long as the check hasn’t already been processed, it won’t allow the check to clear.

•   A stop payment typically lasts for six months. According to state law, however, a stop-payment request made by phone (and not in writing) can lapse after 14 days, so you may want to ask your bank if any forms need to be filled out to get the full six-month hold.

•   If the stop payment order ends and you suspect criminal activity, you can renew the order for an additional six months, but you may have to pay another fee.

Recommended: What Is a Routing Number?

Protecting Yourself From Fraud and Identity Theft

There are a few different ways in which checks can be stolen. Someone could possibly remove it from the outgoing mail in your mailbox or the payee’s mailbox. There have also been some cases in which mail has been stolen from a blue U.S. Postal Service mailbox. Or the check might have been stolen from the recipient after they received it.

What can someone do with a stolen check?

•   Once they’ve intercepted your check, thieves might find a way to cash it for the amount written or change it to a larger amount. In some cases, they may use chemicals to alter the name of the payee, or the amount.

•   It may also be possible for a thief to use the information on the check to steal your identity and use that information to open new accounts in your name.

If you believe your check was stolen and you’ve already reported it to your bank, there are a few more steps you may want to take to protect yourself.

Recommended: What Can a Scammer Do With Your Bank Account and Routing Number?

Filing a Police Report

By going to your local police department, you can create a paper trail to show the bank and others you’ve been doing all you can to get to the bottom of your loss and stop any further theft.

Reporting Stolen Mail

If you think you’ve been the victim of mail theft or tampering, you can report it to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service online or call 1-877-876-2455.

Reporting Identity Theft

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers step-by-step advice on what to do if you think your personal information has been compromised, including placing a fraud alert on your credit reports.

Watching Bank Accounts Closely

Keeping an eye on other accounts — including savings and credit card accounts — could help you spot identity theft faster.

If anything looks out of the ordinary, you can check into it immediately and take any necessary actions to report the theft and protect your account.

What If a Check Written to You Is Lost or Stolen?

If a check that was sent to you never arrives and you’re wondering what to do if the check is lost in the mail, follow these steps:

•   Notify the person or business who sent it as soon as possible so they can stop payment before someone else can cash or deposit it.

•   If you believe the check was stolen from your mailbox and could be cashed, it’s also a good idea to report it to the police.

•   If someone cashed and/or altered the check, and you’re worried about identity theft, you may want to report the theft to the FTC.

•   You may also want to ask the issuer to send the replacement funds in a more secure way.

What If Your Checkbook or Multiple Checks Are Missing?

If several checks or your entire checkbook go missing and you suspect they were stolen, it’s wise to spring into action to protect yourself.

•   Quickly report the loss to your bank and also file a report with the police. If you don’t, you could be held responsible for any unauthorized activity.

•   If you know the numbers of the missing checks, you may choose to put a stop payment on each one.

•   Consider putting a freeze on the account or closing it. If you have other transactions that haven’t finished processing, a bank representative can help you decide which are safe to clear.

How Can You Help Prevent Check Theft?

Implementing a few safeguards could help save you from the stress of dealing with a lost or stolen check. These might include:

Guarding Your Checkbook

It’s wise to treat your checkbook as if it were a big stack of cash. If you don’t think you’ll need it, why not leave it in a safe place at home? Or you could tuck one check in your wallet, just in case.

Mailing Checks with Extreme Care

Putting the flag up on your mailbox can be a signal to thieves looking for an opportunity to steal checks.
Rather than leave envelopes with checks in your mailbox or in an outgoing mail basket at work, consider taking them to the post office yourself. If you want to be extra-safe, consider sending them by certified mail.

Using Your Check Registry

If you aren’t writing checks very often, it may seem silly to maintain the check register. But the information you keep there can help you keep track of when and where you sent a check. And if a check is stolen, you’ll have the details you need to report it.

Checking Your Transactions Daily

It doesn’t take long to log into your account and check your transactions frequently, even daily. If you have an app, you can often do this quickly with your phone.

If something looks fishy or a check you sent a while ago hasn’t cleared, it’s a good idea to follow up with the payee and/or your bank.

Being Cautious When Writing Checks

It’s a good idea to be careful when filling in the front of your checks. This includes making sure your signature is clear and consistent, not putting your Social Security number on a check, and only writing your phone number or driver’s license number on a check if a merchant known to you requests it.

The less information you provide, the harder it will be for someone to impersonate you and attempt to cash your check.

Paying with Checks Only When Necessary

Many transactions can be completed online these days, so you may want to consider that route whenever it’s a choice.

You can also set up automatic payments so you don’t have to write checks for recurring expenses.

And if you have to send money to friends or family, you may want to try switching to P2P transfers. You may want to keep in mind that, depending on the money transfer service or app you use, both parties may need to have access to the app or set up an account to exchange money. Also be aware of any fees assessed as you move funds around this way.

The Takeaway

When you write a check and it gets lost or stolen, it’s a good idea to act quickly to protect your finances. This may involve putting a stop payment on the check and possibly contacting authorities if you believe a crime was committed or that identity theft may be the goal. There is typically a fee charged for a stop payment, but it can be worthwhile to protect yourself. After a check is stolen, you run the risk of identity theft, so it’s wise to monitor your accounts and your credit reports closely.

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Can I cancel a check after it’s been cashed?

Once a check has been cashed, you cannot stop payment or cancel it. If you believe there’s fraudulent activity related to the check, contact your financial institution as quickly as possible and possibly other authorities.

How long before a check is considered lost?

Checks are typically good for six months, meaning that someone could hold onto one for that long and still cash it. However, if you were expecting a check to arrive via mail in, say, a week and you have waited twice as long, you might wonder what to do if a check is lost in the mail. Consider issuing a stop payment and then having payment made again, possibly by another method.

Can someone steal your bank info from a check?

If someone gets one of your checks, they have access to both your bank account number and bank routing number. With those two sets of digits, they can potentially commit fraud, such as printing fake checks that are drawn against your account or setting up ACH (automated clearing house) withdrawals from your account.

How do thieves cash stolen checks?

One common method that thieves use is working with household chemicals to erase the ink on a check they have stolen. They can then write in a new payee’s name and amount and cash the check. Typically, they might do this at an ATM or a currency exchange.

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