Broward County, Florida – Three Broward County nonprofits have become the unintended victims of a prevalent but often overlooked crime known as check-washing, losing out on significant donations. This incident sheds light on the vulnerabilities faced by individuals and organizations using checks for transactions.
The affected nonprofits were expecting donations from the 2023 Men of Style fundraiser, an event that successfully raised over $200,000. In this unique event, men representing various charities and nonprofits took to the runway as models to garner donations. However, last month, a criminal act interrupted this stream of goodwill. Checks meant for three of the charities were intercepted and illegally altered in a process called check-washing.
In check-washing, stolen checks are treated with a chemical solution that erases the ink. Once the original writing is removed, the checks are fraudulently rewritten and made payable to whoever the thief chooses. U.S. Postal Inspector Ivan Ramirez explained the simplicity of this crime, noting that the necessary products are easily accessible and do not require advanced skills to use.
Michael Goodman, the public relations executive who coordinated the Men of Style event, experienced this crime first-hand. He placed the checks in a pickup box within his Oakland Park office, only to find out later that they were tampered with and cashed by criminals. The amount defrauded totaled $27,000, affecting the Art and Culture Center Hollywood, the Jack and Jill Center, and the Florida Children’s Theatre.
Upon discovering the fraud, Goodman was stunned to see the checks altered only in the payee’s name while retaining the original check number and signature. This situation highlights the cunning methods employed by perpetrators of check-washing.
Ramirez pointed out that check-washing has become increasingly common, with businesses often targeted due to their larger account balances. He also mentioned that checks left in public collection boxes or mailboxes with raised flags are particularly vulnerable to theft.
Recovering from such a fraud is a lengthy process, often taking up to 90 days for banks to investigate. Goodman has reported the crime to the Broward Sheriff’s Office and plans to inform the postal service.
In light of these incidents, there are ways to mitigate the risk of becoming a victim of check-washing. These include paying bills online, using gel-point pens for writing checks, and opting for mail drop boxes inside post offices. As the banking system and law enforcement work to address these crimes, the hope remains that the banks will reimburse the altered check amounts to the charities. This incident serves as a cautionary tale about the risks associated with traditional check-based transactions and the importance of adopting more secure methods.