What to Do If a Check Is Lost or Stolen
When you write a check and it's lost or stolen, you'll need to act quickly to protect your finances. Although there are some exceptions, it's usually best to report it to your bank immediately and put a stop payment on it if it hasn't been cashed yet.
Contact Your Bank and Put a Stop Payment on the Check
If you suspect a check has been lost or stolen, you first need to contact your bank. If the check hasn't already been cashed, then you can request that they put a stop payment on it. It's a formal request that the check not be paid out by the bank if it's deposited or presented to be cashed. Stop payments on personal checks usually last for up to six months.
You can usually request a stop payment by calling your bank or visiting a branch. Some financial institutions also allow you to do it online.
To put a stop payment on a check, you'll need to know the check number, the exact amount of the check, and who you made it out to. If you present any of that information incorrectly then the check might still be cashed.
Be Aware of the Stop Payment Fees
The fees for stopping a check can range from $15-$35. Some banks waive fees for customers who have certain types of premium accounts, and others don't charge a fee if the checks that were lost or stolen were blank.
You should be prepared to pay the fee to stop the check, and you may need to pay it again if you have not found the missing check when the six-month hold expires.
Remember to balance the amount the check was written for against the need to put a stop payment on it. If the check amount is less than the fee you’ll pay to put a stop on it, then it’s likely not worth doing. Also: The fee is per item, so if you had several checks stolen, they can add up quickly.
Consider Other Options
A stop payment can be a good solution when you know of one check that was lost in the mail. But you may want to review some other actions as well.
If you suspect criminal activity, then you'll also need to file a police report. If you believe the check was stolen from the mail, then you'll also want to report it to the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General.
If an entire checkbook was stolen, or if you suspect fraud, then you might want to consider putting a freeze or hold on your account, or closing out the account completely and opening a new one. Each bank has different policies, so it's a good idea to contact a bank representative to review your options.
Watch Out for Identity Theft
After a check is stolen, you run the same risk of identity theft that you would face after your checkbook or credit cards are stolen. You'll need to monitor your credit reports over the next several months.
You can set up a flag on the credit reports that states that the bank must call you before they lend you money or to put a freeze on your credit report. If you're thinking about buying a home or car soon, then it may not be very convenient, but it can save your credit report and prevent you from needing to clean up a big mess in the future.
If you do become a victim of identity theft, you'll need to protect yourself so you can dispute the charges with the bank and recoup your money. The Federal Trade Commission's identity theft website, will walk you through the steps you can take to protect yourself based on your circumstance.
Take Preventative Measures
Taking measures to help prevent your checks from being lost or stolen in the first place can save you a major headache.
First, try not to write checks if you don't have to. Most banks and credit unions offer online banking services, and many transactions can now be completed online, which eliminates the need to write checks altogether.
If you have to write checks, then treat your checkbook like cash. Keep it at home in a safe place. If you're mailing a check, you may want to send it via certified mail, depending on the amount of the check.
But the most important thing you can do to prevent this from happening is to monitor your checking account daily so you can quickly identify any fraudulent activity or charges. This can save you time—and money—in the long run.