Be Safe when Sending Checks Through the Mail
Protect Your Check (Or Pay Electronically)
Checks aren’t a thing of the past — yet. A paper check is a useful payment option in several situations. Checks are inexpensive to process for both buyers and sellers, and they get the job done, even in today’s high-tech world. But checks need to travel to the payee. So, how safe is it to mail a check, and what can you do to keep your money from ending up in the wrong hands?
Regular mail is usually fine, and you can take steps to increase the security of your payments:
- Track the check so you know if and when it arrives.
- Never mail a check payable to Cash.
- Restrict the check.
- Make it hard to tell that there’s a check in an envelope.
- Consider alternative forms of payment, such as a wire transfer or other electronic payment.
- To prevent anybody from seeing your bank account and routing numbers, pay with your bank’s online bill payment service or send a money order.
We’ll discuss all of that in detail below.
Mailing a check in the United States via regular mail is quite safe. Numerous checks move through the mail every day, including many of the payments made through online bill payment services. Banks sometimes send those payments electronically, but they often print a check and drop it in the mail.
Before electronic payments gained traction, checks were the norm. For decades, businesses and governments sent checks via regular mail, and those checks almost always made it to their intended destination. Imagine how many millions of paychecks, tax payments, Social Security benefits, and other payments have successfully been made by check.
Still, it can be intimidating to drop an important check in the mail — especially a large check. It’s smart to take precautions that improve security and avoid problems.
Tips: How to Mail a Check Safely
Name a payee: Make sure to include a specific name (of a person, business, or organization) on the line that says “Pay to the order of.” Doing so makes it harder for anybody else to get the money.
Do not send checks payable to Cash through the mail — that’s just as risky as sending cash.
Deliver to a safe place: Don’t just leave a letter with the outgoing mail on your front porch or building entryway. The best approach is to drop the letter off at the post office or hand it to a uniformed mail carrier.
Blue USPS collection boxes might be slightly less safe, but you can minimize problems by dropping your letter off before the last daily collection (read the label on the mailbox door for pickup times). As long as the check doesn’t sit out overnight or over the weekend, it’s highly likely to make it onto a mail truck.
Track the package: If you're concerned about regular mail, you can choose to use certified mail or similar tracking services available from the post office (visit www.usps.com for more information).
FedEx and UPS offer similar security, but those services cost more. Remember that if you use anything besides regular mail, you might make things more difficult for your recipient. For example, they might have to be present and sign for the delivery, or they might have to make a trip to the post office or delivery center to accept the item.
Restrict the check: If you want to require that the check is deposited into a bank account, write “For deposit only to account of payee” in the endorsement area on the back of the check. That restriction makes it hard for anybody to cash the check without leaving a paper trail. If the check gets stolen from the mail, the “recipient” can’t sign it over to somebody else or cash it without leaving a record of the bank account they use. In fact, they shouldn’t be able to cash it at your bank or at a check-cashing store, although it’s possible. This method is not 100% foolproof, but it improves your chances.
Hide the check: If you like, you can make your payment appear like a standard letter instead of something containing a large check. It’s probably unnecessary because checks are frequently mailed, but it can’t hurt to reduce temptation. To disguise your check, fold a thick piece of paper around the check. Make sure you use enough postage to cover any extra weight.
Double-check the address: It might seem silly, but it’s easy to stick a check into the wrong envelope or send it to the wrong place.
Take five seconds to save yourself several weeks of stress, and make sure your check is headed to the right destination.
If Something Happens
So, what happens if you mail a check and it gets stolen?
For starters, the thief will typically have to forge the payee’s signature or alter the check. With modern checks, it’s difficult to get away with alterations. Among other things, that means he’ll commit fraud. Then, he’ll have to convince a bank or check cashing store to accept the fake endorsement (which is especially difficult without showing ID and revealing his identity). If you use the suggestions above, you make all of this difficult for the thief. Also, the restrictive endorsement improves the chances that you’ll have a bank account number tied to the thief, which can help investigators.
Assuming a thief is successful in getting cash, your check would have been used fraudulently. You should contact your bank and law enforcement officials immediately. State laws may protect you from loss, but it’s important to follow the specific steps required in each state. The bank or check cashing store that cashed the check may be liable for any loss.
All of the information above assumes that the check is deposited or cashed in the United States. U.S. banks have strict rules on identifying customers, but other nations may have different rules.
Have you lost a check? If a check disappears, you can request a stop payment at your bank. Your bank will flag the check and (hopefully) prevent the check from being paid from your account. There may be a modest fee for this service, and there are limits to how effective it is — but it’s safer than doing nothing.
You can also set up alerts (like email or text message alerts) from your bank so that you know when the check is deposited. Moving quickly can help you and your bank track down any problems.
Alternatives to Mailing a Check
If your payment is really important (or really large), see if there’s another way to pay. A wire transfer will get funds to a specific account quickly. If that’s overkill, there are numerous ways to send money online for a small fee or for free. Examples include Venmo, PayPal, Square Cash, and others.
A credit card might get the job done and provide consumer protection benefits — just be sure to pay it off completely before your next monthly statement.
United States Postal Inspection Service. "Mail & Package Theft," Accessed Dec. 3, 2019.
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "I Wrote a Check, and Someone Forged the Endorsement and Cashed the Check. My Bank/Credit Union Won't Return My Money to My Account. Am I Responsible?" Accessed Dec. 3, 2019.
Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. "USA PATRIOT Act," Accessed Dec. 3, 2019.
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. "Dictionary," Accessed Dec. 3, 2019.