This $2 pen can help protect your bank account from fraud

CHARLOTTE — Last week, Channel 9 reported on recent cases of thieves stealing checks from the mail. Action 9 investigator Jason Stoogenke talked to a Charlotte woman who said someone stole three checks she had mailed and altered them.

“It just makes you leery how far people will go to take your money from you,” Cynthia Smith told Stoogenke. “And now I got to change how I do business because of what crooked people are doing every day.”

Channel 9 learned that some thieves will “wash” checks — they’ll use chemicals to erase the ink so they can change the dollar amount and who the check was made out to.

A viewer saw the news report on what happened to Smith and emailed Stoogenke, saying the Uni-Ball 207 gel pen helps prevent check washing. So, Stoogenke investigated it. Many sources, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Johnathan Frisk, say gel pens are hard to erase, especially the Uni-Ball 207.

“That gel-based ink, it actually starts off as a solid and turns into an actual liquid,” Frisk explained. “So, when you start to actually write … it’s coming out on the paper as a liquid and immediately turns back into a solid.”

Stoogenke tested it by writing on three pieces of paper using the Uni-Ball gel pen on one piece, and a ballpoint pen and a marker on the other two pieces. He put each paper in a container and poured in a chemical that thieves use to wash checks. The marker and ballpoint started to run immediately.

One hour later, the ballpoint was almost gone, and the marker was faded, but the Uni-Ball appeared unchanged.

Channel 9 tested three types of pens.

Stoogenke caught up with Smith again and gave her one of the pens. “I got my new checks about three days ago and I need to write some today, so perfect timing. Thank you so much,” she said.

The Uni-Ball pens are available at most stores and they’re inexpensive, costing about $2 each.

Other ways to protect yourself:

- Pick up mail quickly. Don’t leave it in the mailbox a long time.

- If you can’t pick up your mail quickly, use USPS’s hold service.

- Drop mail in USPS blue boxes close to pick up times, or drop off mail inside the post office directly if you’re worried.

- If you’re expecting money in the mail and don’t get it, don’t hesitate to tell the sender right away.

- Do not mail cash.

- If you move, make sure everyone important has your new address.

If you think someone stole your mail, report it online here or call the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455.

(WATCH BELOW: Seven ways to protect yourself from mail thieves)

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