Stop Writing Checks?

Dear Dr. Per Cap:

I still write checks to pay bills, but my son says I’m wasting time, paper, and stamps. He also says checks are easy to steal. Should I stop writing checks and switch to online bill payments?


Checking In

Dear Checking In:

Your son is part of a growing majority of consumers dumping checkbooks in favor of electronic transactions. In fact, several years ago a Federal Reserve study revealed that paper checks were only written to pay 7% of all consumers’ bills.

And yes, there has been a frightening increase in check fraud in recent years, especially among age-affluent elders more likely to use checks. What often happens is that criminals steal signed checks from envelopes inside mailboxes.

It’s frightening what a determined thief can do with a few dabs of White Out or nail polish remover. They just remove the dollar amount and the name after “Pay to the Order of,” write in a new name and amount (usually a much larger number than the original), and go cash the doctored check.

However, the decision to stop writing checks altogether is a really tough call that puts me on the fence. That’s because while check fraud is a very real risk, electronic payments present a whole different set of risks. Fake URLs and phony apps, cyberattacks, poorly protected WiFi networks, and a host of other tech glitches and vulnerabilities have allowed fraud to run amok in many segments of the electronic payments realm, too.

What I will say is that if you continue to write checks, make sure to take extra precautions. For starters, never drop an envelope that contains a check into an unlocked mailbox. It’s also a good idea to wait until just before the last pick-up of the day to deposit your mail. Or better yet, hand-deliver your bills in the mail slot inside your local post office.

Also, don’t sign your checks with any old pen you have lying around. Instead use a fraud proof pen that contains special ink that is both waterproof and fade proof. This will make it a lot harder for criminals to bleed your bank account dry with the “check washing” techniques described above.

For more tips on how to protect against check fraud, or to report a check-washing crime, check out the United States Postal Inspection Service website.

Cheesy pun intended!

Ask Dr. Per Cap is a program funded by First Nations Development Institute with assistance from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. For more information, visit To send a question to Dr. Per Cap, email