As a kid, I thought that money laundering like you'd see in movies and TV shows was a literal thing. Bad guys, for whatever reasons, would take money and "launder" it--and for reasons that a kid couldn't understand, it really seemed to anger members of law enforcement.

As I learned later on in life, laundering money doesn't mean immersing it in soap and water.

Until I learned today that...well...sometimes that's exactly what it means. And it does tend it irritate police and Illinois residents who have their money taken and laundered.

One caucasian male throwing money into a washing machine
Who doesn't love it when their money smells April fresh? (Getty Images)
loading...

If You Never, Ever Have A Check In Your Mailbox (Coming In Or Going Out) For Any Reason, You Don't Have Anything To Worry About

After considering that statement for a second, I've quickly realized that there aren't very many people who can say that, and that's what makes this particular sort of scam crime even more wide-reaching. We all have a check in the mailbox at one time or another, and in some cases, quite frequently.

This whole problem begins with the rather simple act of a criminal stealing mail out of mailboxes, then getting to work.

Getty Images
There's gotta be a check from Grandma in here someplace. (Getty Images)
loading...

Thieves Will Go Through Your Mail Looking For Any And All Checks That They Can Find

We make it easier for the thieves by leaving up flags on mailboxes which signals scammers of an opportunity. There's also unguarded or open-door mail trucks. Single-family homes often have an unlocked mailbox mounted near the front door, and some multi-resident dwellings leave both incoming and outgoing mail exposed. In some cases, thieves get access to mailbox keys.

Here's what happens next, according to Dennis Horton, director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau (BBB):

Scammers wash the checks in a simple mix of household cleaners and then write in any name and any sum of money they want, cash it, and in an instant, your money can be gone. The process leaves a blank space where the “Pay to” name and dollar amount used to be. A simple $25 birthday check can be converted into a $2,500 check. Experts estimate it’s a $815 million business and growing.

Getty Images
Getty Images
loading...

The Good News Here Is That It's Fairly Easy To Avoid Having This Happen To You

With a couple of simple adjustments, you stand a pretty good chance of foiling scammers who might try to do this to you.

    • The most effective way to make sure the ink can't be washed from your checks is to use indelible black gel ink. That can't be washed away.
    • Don't use regular blue or black ink pens because their dye-based inks can easily be washed away.
    • Bring mail containing checks to a U.S. Post Office and deposit it inside.
    • Pay your bills online from a secure computer.
    • Get your incoming mail right away. Do not leave it in your mailbox overnight.
    • Never leave your outgoing mail in the lobby unsecured. Anyone could pick it up, not just the postal clerk.
    • Do not deposit mail containing checks after the mailbox’s last pickup. Crooks tend to steal mail at night.

A LOOK INSIDE ILLINOIS' MOST EXPENSIVE HOME FOR SALE

The Best Airbnb In Illinois Is In Someone's Backyard

More From Rockford's New Country Q98.5