While you may be writing fewer checks these days than in the past, it’s still important to track any checks you do write to be sure they were received and cashed.
If you think a check you wrote has been lost or stolen, it’s wise to report it to your bank as soon as possible and request a stop payment on it.
If you suspect any criminal activity, you may also want to take steps to notify the police, as well as monitor your accounts and credit reports for any evidence of identity theft.
Taking swift action could help save you from headaches, as well as financial loss.
Here are some key moves that can be helpful in the event of a lost or stolen check.
What if a Check You Sent Never Got Cashed or Deposited?
If you’re concerned because a check you sent hasn’t cleared your 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 if the check never made it to its destination, and you suspect it’s been lost or stolen, here are some next steps you may want to take:
Reporting a Lost or Stolen 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
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.
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.
Monitoring Your 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 the check.
So if you don’t already monitor your checking account online, you may want to start.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Other 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, 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, 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 your several checks or your entire checkbook go missing, and you suspect they were stolen, you can start by quickly reporting the loss to your bank and also filing 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.
You also may want to 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.
So 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 every day. 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.
When you write a check and it gets lost or stolen, it’s a good idea to act quickly to protect your finances.
The first step is to report the missing check to your bank and, if it hasn’t been cashed yet, put a stop payment on it (this typically involves paying a fee).
If you believe the check was stolen, you may also want to file a police report.
If multiple checks (or your entire checkbook) have been stolen, you may also want to put a freeze or hold on your account, or close out the account completely and open a new one.
After a check is stolen, you run the risk of identity theft, so it’s wise to monitor your accounts and your credit reports over the next few months.
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