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Joplin Police See Surge in Check Washing Crimes:Warn Residents to be Cautious with Mail

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JOPLIN, MISSOURI -       Joplin police are working multiple cases of a crime that can leave victims and banks at a loss for big dollars. You've heard of laundering money. Well, Joplin police are seeing a significant increase in check washing.

A common target is outgoing mail hanging by a clothes pin or magnet which  is a common sight in some neighborhoods.

 “It most  certainly is,” says Joplin resident Carol Miller. “We have for years and we always, you know, trusted. Now, no more."

Brandy Anderson also puts mail out for the postman to pick up on his route. “I write  bills once a week. So once a week I put them on the box.”

A practice both will stop after learning  from us that forgers are stealing checks from outgoing mail and washing them to cash in on a victim's money.

Captain Bob Higginbotham of the Joplin Police Department says, "They're  washing them in acetone base, typically  converting them to the amount they want and you don't know your checking account has been depleted while you were at work that day."

Several local banks have seen customers become victims or cashed the washed checks.

Anderson says, “Absolutely, it scares me because anybody could write it for hundreds or thousands of dollars. And I'm not the type of person that sits around on hundreds of thousands of dollars, so it definitely scares me."

Police say what kind of ink you use to write that check, could make a difference to whether or not you become a victim.

Capt. Higginbotham says, "Use a gel ink rather than just a water based ballpoint. Those are more difficult if not impossible to wash. Then there are security features such as a chemical void. So if your check is immersed in some of the frequently used  chemicals it alters the check to have a void appear on it."

Capt. Higginbotham says police are closing in on several suspects but say it's important people pay close attention to their bank statements. If you see a check amount that doesn't belong. Notify the bank immediately.

Anderson says she does that, "At least once if not twice a week, I check my online banking. I think if something like that were to happen I could probably  catch it quickly but the whole recovery part  of getting the money back  and finding out who did it is what's gonna take the time to get what's rightfully mine."

  Police say forgery is the typical charge associated with check washing. But if taken from the mail and a certain dollar amount is stolen, federal authorities can get involved.

     While policies may differ, Capt. Higginbotham says banks typically cover a customer's losses for just the first thirty days so it's important to report suspicious checks right away.

And Commerce Bank which is named in one of the case investigations offered this statement:

“Commerce Bank takes the security of our customers' accounts very seriously. Since there is an ongoing investigation it is our policy not to comment specifically about this case. While we advise our customers to be vigilant, our employees are trained to recognize fraudulent activity and report it to the authorities.

There are a variety of ways check fraud can occur, but one common way is for bad guys to take checks from mailboxes, so we advise our customers to either pay bills online or take bills to the post office. “

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