Louisiana residents who mail payments via check through the United States Postal Service are being advised of a heinous crime that could result in a loss of funds or even identity theft. Postal investigators say instances of crimes involving checks in the mail are on the increase. Fortunately, there is a simple adjustment that you can make that could make committing a crime against you less likely.

Joe Raedle, Getty Images
Joe Raedle, Getty Images
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As a kid growing up in a much more innocent time, I was always led to believe that checks were the safest way to send money through the mail. I remember being told by my parents to never put cash in an envelope and put that envelope in the mail. The one exception my parents made was when they allowed me to include a penny in my Columbia Records and Tape Club Membership Application. Of course, there was fraud of a different kind committed in that transaction.

But seriously, with today's modern technology thieves can actually steal a check from your mailbox and literally "wash" the payee's name out and insert their own. The process is slick enough to fool even some of the sharpest-eyed tellers and automatic teller machines on the planet. And once the transaction has been made there's not much anyone can do to get your money back.

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One way to prevent the crime of "washing" as it's known is to use a gel pen when filling out the lines on your check. The gel ink is more readily absorbed into the check's paper making a "clean wash" more difficult and the attempted fraud easier to spot.

One way postal patrons can prevent the prospect of stolen checks from their mailbox is to not leave uncollected mail in the box for days at a time. You'd be surprised at how many people make it their business to drive around through quiet law-abiding neighborhoods just like yours and casually open a mailbox or two. They can always tell a nosy neighbor they were "leaving something for the homeowner".

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One other way you can avoid leaving uncollected mail in the box for too long is to simply take your envelopes to the Post Office. Those big blue drop boxes are very secure and the mail is removed from the daily. Or you could always go inside the Post Office Lobby and use the drop slot there or hand your letter off to one of the desk personnel on duty.

Let's face it, that's a lot of trouble to send a payment through the mail so most of us won't do those things, but we can do this one thing that will greatly reduce the chances of envelopes being stolen and checks being "washed". The one thing is to be mindful of the day you mail your payments.

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Experts who study postal crimes say there are three days that are better for mailing financial documents. Those days are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. If you're like me you'd like to know a reason. Here it is.

The Post Office usually has fewer pieces of mail to process in their system on those days. This means that letters and packages tend to move through the process faster. You might even notice that your letter carrier in your neighborhood arrives a little earlier in the day when it's early in the week. That's the reason why. 

Postal Service
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Studies have shown that mail placed in boxes on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday has more of a tendency to sit longer than mail that is put in the system earlier in the week. The longer the letter sits, the more likely the opportunity for the bad guys to ply their trade.

Another way you can protect yourself, at least where incoming mail is concerned. If you sign up for Informed Delivery through the Post Office you'll get a daily email with information on letters and packages that are to be delivered that day. That way if something is stolen, you'll know what's missing and can begin the reporting process sooner and with better details for investigators.

Taped Mailbox (Photo by John Falcon/Townsquare Media)
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So, don't mail cash. If you do write a check use a gel pen. And if you're putting financial documents in the mail, do it earlier in the week than later.

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