Never Let Your Bank Give You This, Police Say in New Warning

·5 min read

When it comes to our hard-earned money, we tend to trust our banks to keep it safe. And that's a lot of money on the whole. According to the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), the average bank account balance for U.S. consumers is $5,300. Multiply that by the majority of Americans with bank accounts, and you end up with quite a hefty sum. Naturally, there are thieves out there looking to take advantage of that, prompting police to issue a new alert to Americans on how to avoid getting money stolen out of their accounts. Read on to find out what authorities are saying you should never let your bank give you.

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Many people are worried about their money in the bank.

From stealing your physical debit card to targeting you with banking scams, there are plenty of ways thieves can gain access to the money you have in your bank account. And many people are well aware of this. While the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) reports that 97.3 percent of banked households say they feel satisfied with their bank, 16.1 percent of unbanked households say they don't have a bank account because they "don't trust banks."

They may have good reason to feel this way. According to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, over 29 percent of American adults say they have experienced at least one of the five top problems associated with using banking services. The most common problem? Fraudulent transactions. Around 16 percent of adults said they were affected by money being taken from their account through charges they had not made.

One tactic is becoming more prevalent among thieves.

If you're moving any of your money through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) these days, you're putting yourself at risk. Police in Chevy Chase, Maryland, are now warning residents about ongoing mail theft, Patch reported on Sept. 21. According to the Chevy Chase Village Police Department, thieves in suburban Maryland have stolen mailbox keys and have used those keys to steal mail from blue USPS collection mail boxes in Bethesda and Chevy Chase.

Thieves are searching for one things in particular: your checks. Authorities said that criminals find checks in the mail and forge their names, allowing them to sometimes steal thousands of dollars out of people's bank accounts.

"Criminals are stealing mail—that's what's happening," Frank Albergo, national president of the Postal Police Officers Association, told ABC-affiliate WMAR in Baltimore. "They're looking for checks to wash, they're breaking into blue collection boxes, they're robbing letter carriers, they're breaking into postal vehicles, it's out of control. Postal crime has spiraled out of control."

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Never let your bank give you this.

With ongoing mail theft becoming more prevalent, the Chevy Chase Village Police Department said it recommends that Americans try "writing as few check as possible," by making payments electronically rather than through mailed checks. But if you still need to send checks through the USPS, authorities have another key piece of advice: "Ask your bank for 'secure' checks that are more difficult to alter."

Many people still use regular personal checks, which are just "slips of paper issued by your bank that feature the bank's routing number and your account number," account to Forbes. These make it easier for criminals to forge checks they steal from the mail, with Frank Abagnale, a secure-document consultant in Washington, D.C., telling Bankrate that thieves commit about $1.1 billion in check fraud annually.

Thankfully, banks also offer "official bank checks" like certified checks and cashier's checks. These typically require more from customers, like a government-issued photo ID, proof that there's enough money in your account to cover the check, and an additional fee, per Forbes. "Both cashier's checks and certified checks are official checks that are guaranteed by a bank," Investopedia further explains. "Compared to personal checks, cashier's checks and certified checks are generally viewed as more secure and less susceptible to fraud."

The Postal Service says it works to prevent mail theft and fraud.

Mail theft is not only a problem in Maryland. People from states all across the U.S. have been dealing with this ongoing crisis. As a result, Albergo is advising against Americans putting valuable things, such as bank checks, in community mailboxes altogether. "You know, as a postal worker, it's tough to say it, I refuse to say it, but I would not put anything in the blue collection boxes I would bring my mail into a post office," he told WMAR. "People are losing public trust in the mail. The Postal Service is destroying its brand."

The postal inspector branch of the USPS told the news outlet that it continues to investigate postal-related crimes throughout the country, such as mail fraud, theft, and crimes against postal employees. "As part of our mission to protect our employees, customers, and the Postal Service, robberies of postal employees are a top priority for Postal Inspectors," the U.S. Postal Inspectors (USPIS)'s Office of Public Affairs said. "Although the incidence of robberies is relatively low (considering the number of daily contacts postal employees have with the public), Postal Inspectors take each one very seriously."