Local News

Check Washing Soaks Honest Folks

Posted August 16, 1998

— You fill out a check and put it in the mail. The next thing you know, someone else has removed your writing and written the check to himself.

It's called check washing, and it's a crime in which criminals literally wash the check to erase the ink, then add their own recipient.

Checks are just one part of the problem. Other sensitive documents people could be altered as well, such as birth certificates or wills. That's why state and local police really want to get to the bottom of this.

A thief stole $465 from Carol Aitken's checking account. She's one of the first victims of a new kind of fraud called check washing.

"It was just a surprise that something like that could happen to us," said Aitken. "That stuff is supposed to happen to other people."

Police say the thief who altered the Aitken's check used a chemical solution to erase just a small portion of the space where the original recipient and the check's amount are written. A new name and amount were then filled in, and the check was successfully cashed at a BB&T branch in Garner.

Aitken's check was written with a felt tip pen. Police say that's a no-no if you want to prevent this from happening to you.

"I would advise people to write in a ball point pen. I would also advise them that their mailboxes, especially in rural areas, are not very safe. Mail your bills and your checks at a post office or a secure mail box," said Garner Police Detective Kathy Wood.

The only way detectives could tell the check was tampered with was under a high-powered microscope.

"I saw the original check and I, with my naked eye, could not tell that that check had been altered. There was no residue, there were no erasure marks," said Wood.

The man who cashed Aitken's check did so under the name Richard Pelligrini. Police aren't sure if that is his real name, since it was listed with his picture on a fake-driver's license.

In the case of Carol Aitken, the bank covered the full amount of her loss, but bank officials say it evaluates each case on its own merits.

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