Practically any payment can now be done as part of a money transfer service or a regular checking account. However, many people still like to use paper checks. Sending a paper check in the mail can be risky but there are things you can do to minimize the risk.
Sending a check by regular US mail could be risky. Anyone could steal the letter, resulting in the check being cashed fraudulently. Alternatively, the letter could simply be misplaced, potentially resulting in late fees or missed payments. Here are seven things to consider if you want to mail a check safely.
1. Fill out the check correctly
Look at the check recipient’s name and address. Then, fill out the check and address the envelope making sure the information is clearly and correctly spelled.
Don’t send a check payable to “cash”
When mailing a check, make it out to a specific payee. It’s critical not to use “cash” as the payee, as this allows anyone with the check to cash it. If you’re ever asked to enter “cash” in the payee field, be wary because it could be a scam.
2. Disguise the check
Put the check inside another piece of paper so that it can’t be seen. You can also buy a security envelope, which is designed to conceal the contents. Fold a thick piece of paper around your check to disguise it. Make sure to use enough postage to cover any additional weight.
Can you fold a check?
You can fold a check as many times as you want. You’re good as long as the cashier (or phone app) can read it. If you worry about the shape of a check, you could also use colored paper or a greeting card to hide the check as an alternative. Although the colored paper is visible inside a letter, it is not immediately apparent that it conceals a check.
3. Send the check via certified mail
Take the check to the post office sealed in its envelope. Consider sending the envelope via certified mail. When you send a check via certified mail, someone must sign for it when it arrives. The receipt is mailed back to you as proof that your intended party signed for and received the check.
By handing it to a postal employee rather than putting it in your mailbox, you reduce your risk. Check the postage cost for sending the check twice.
How long does it take to mail a check?
If you send a check by standard First Class mail, it will take one to three business days (sometimes longer). Consider using Priority Mail or Priority Mail Express if you need to get a check to its recipient faster.
4. Track the check
If you’re worried about regular mail, you can use bank checks or other tracking services provided by the post office (visit www.usps.com for more information). FedEx and UPS provide comparable security, but their services are more expensive.
Keep in mind that if you send something by registered or certified mail, you may make things more difficult for your recipient. For example, they may be required to be present and sign for the delivery, or they may be required to visit a post office or delivery center to accept the item.
5. Restrict the check
A check can be “restricted” by writing something in the endorsement area on the reverse of the check. The most useful restriction for mailing purposes will be to write “for deposit only to account of payee” in the endorsement area. As a result, rather than being cashed or transferred to a third party, the check must be deposited directly into a bank account, making it more difficult for thieves to cash the check.
6. Drop the envelope at a safe location
Don’t just leave a letter on your front porch or in the building’s entryway with the outgoing mail. If you leave the mail in an open mailbox, anyone can come by and steal it before the postal worker can collect it. Next time you mail a check, consider dropping it off at a secure location. You can put the mail in an officially locked post office mailbox, drop it off at the post office, or hand it to a uniformed mail carrier.
Although blue USPS collection boxes are slightly less secure, you can reduce the risk further by dropping your letter off just before the last daily collection (read the label on the mailbox door for pickup times). As long as the check isn’t left out overnight or on the weekend, it’ll almost certainly make it onto a mail truck.
7. Consider alternative payment methods
Nowadays, digital payments, rather than mailed checks, are the safest way to send money. For example, although the IRS accepts check payments, it recommends using electronic payment options, which are safer, quicker, and easier to process.
Consider alternative payment methods if you frequently send payments through the mail. Some good options are as follows:
- Transfers between banks (EFTs or bank wires)
- Pay your bills online using your bank’s website.
- Debit or credit card payments can be made using electronic transfer services such as Zelle or Venmo.
- Money transfer services (such as the companies below)
These methods are far more secure, as there is little to no chance that the payment will be intercepted. Some methods (such as bank wires) may incur fees, but the majority of options are free or low-cost.
Another option is to use a money order. There is still the possibility of the letter being intercepted when using a money order. However, your personal information, including your bank account, will be protected.
So, what happens if a check is mailed and it is lost or stolen?
If you suspect your check has been lost or stolen, contact your bank. If the check has not been cashed yet, consider requesting a stop payment order on it. A stop order is a formal request for the check not to be paid out if it’s deposited or presented to be cashed.
There may be a small fee for this service, and its effectiveness is limited—but it’s better than doing nothing. You can also set up alerts from your bank (such as email or text message alerts) to be notified when the check is deposited. Moving quickly can assist you and your bank in locating any issues.
In the majority of cases, the sender is liable for any lost items. If you must mail an important check, consider using bank draft mail and purchasing USPS insurance to ensure that your item is covered if it is lost.
Stolen check laws
There are no federal laws that regulate stolen checks. However, there are state laws that can protect you from financial loss, but it’s critical to follow the specific steps required in each state. If you do, the bank or check cashing store where the check was cashed may be held liable for any losses.
When it comes to stolen checks, states follow the Uniform Commercial Code. The Uniform Commercial Code is a comprehensive set of laws that govern commercial transactions. Article 4 of the UCC states that it is the account holder’s responsibility to take “ordinary care” and notify the bank if a check has been stolen (or lost) before the funds are paid out. Otherwise, the bank is not required to reimburse the funds.
- Track the check so you know if and when it arrives.
- Never mail a check payable to cash.
- Restrict the check (e.g. deposit only).
- Make it hard to tell that there’s a check inside an envelope (you can bend it if you think it will help).
- Consider alternative forms of payment, such as a wire transfer or other electronic payment
- To prevent anybody from seeing your bank account and routing number, pay with your bank’s online bill payment service or send a money order.