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#1
Old 01-26-2008, 12:56 AM
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How safe is mailing a personal check?

I need to write a check to an individual for about $700. They are on the other side of the country, so I need to mail said check. He doesn't have a PayPal account and does not trust PayPal for such large sums of money.

If I, say, fold it up in a few sheets of paper to make it look like a normal letter, and send it registered mail through the postal service, is it reasonably safe that the check will get there unmolested? Are personal checks even considered safe, or would it be better for me to see if my bank can transfer the money direct to his (different) bank? Is there some way to guarantee that only the recipient indicated on the 'to' line can deposit the check?

Apologies for the stupid questions, but it's a very large sum of money and will be only the third check I've ever written in my life - I know how to keep credit and debit cards and online accounts safe, but no idea what to do with paper checks.
#2
Old 01-26-2008, 01:09 AM
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Of course, no one can guarantee a check's safety but most people routinely mail large checks in plain first class mail. I have never had a check lost in the mail in over 20 years of mailing mortgage checks, property tax checks, checks for credit card payments, and checks to family members. The only time, in your case, I would worry is if he lives in a bad neighborhood and his mail doesn't get dropped in a safe mailbox.

If it makes you feel better, or he does live in a bad area do send it in a way he has to sign to get it, it isn't expensive to do.
#3
Old 01-26-2008, 01:25 AM
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I wouldn't be worried. I'd just mail it. If you want to, you could put on the back "FOR DEPOSIT ONLY" so in theory it can only be put into a bank account. But really, I'm not even sure how someone would go about cashing a check that had someone elses name it it nowadays.
#4
Old 01-26-2008, 01:25 AM
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Why would you send it Registered, unless you enjoy needlessly forking over your money to the USPS? Just send it First Class.
#5
Old 01-26-2008, 02:24 AM
Just Lovely and Delicious
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Does your bank have online bill pay of some sort? Lots of banks versions of "online bill pay" isn't wire transfer it's actually you sending a request to the bank to write a check in your name from your account and physically mailing the check to the person.

My company's account is with National City Bank and I send checks out like this all the time, to random people - no sort of official channels to go through, and it doesn't have to be a company or anything. Just regular people getting regular checks from us.

Anyway, if you're scared to send a check in the mail (which ain't actually scary), see if you can go this route with your bank's Web site.
#6
Old 01-26-2008, 09:22 AM
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Wife of a 24-year veteran letter carrier here. I've been mailing checks to pay bills for years now, some of them for huge amounts like for $2,000+ Discover card bills, and some of them incredibly important, like for mortgage payments, and have never had a single instance of having a check disappear in the mail.

You don't even have to send it registered or certified mail. Just make sure there's a legible return address, make sure the address itself is legible and correct, and don't forget to put a stamp on it. Wrap it up in a piece of paper (doesn't have to be a whole wad) so it's not quite so obvious it's a check.

If you're just worried about the recipient getting the money, and not necessarily about someone stealing it in transit, then go ahead and send it either registered or certified. But ordinary first class, in my experience, works just fine.

According to the Better Half, postal thieves in the line of processing basically scan for birthday cards, which are easy to recognize by their size and shape, and which are statistically more likely to contain cash. They're not interested in plain business envelopes.

But if somebody did intercept a check and try to cash it, then that would be a criminal proceeding, and would be the problem of (A) your bank, (B) the place where he cashed it, and (C) the Postal Inspectors, who, trust me, you do not want to have mad at you. Seriously.

Paper checks are actually safer than using plastic, because they leave a paper trail. Whoever cashes a stolen check leaves a trail of evidence behind him, such as a signature, sometimes a driver's license or other ID, sometimes a picture on a surveillance video, whereas using stolen plastic is like finding money in the street.

But like I said, the Bad Guys who are sitting there scanning the flow of mail for something to steal aren't interested in plain business envelopes, because there are just too many of them, and because they know it's too much trouble to cash a stolen check, and that it leaves a paper trail.

Really, just stick it in an envelope, wrap it up in your choice of humorous Internet web page, and mail it. It'll be fine.
#7
Old 01-26-2008, 09:34 AM
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Although I wouldn't hesitate to mail a check, and I routinely do, I feel obligated to tell a personal story. In the 90's, I failed to receive a payment in the $700 range, but the sender claimed the check had been sent and cashed. The issuing bank supplied me with a copy of both sides of the check, clearly made out to me and just as clearly signed by someone else with no attempt to copy my sig. How it happened, I do not know, as the bank clammed up from then on. They had me sign a notarized statement that I was not the person who deposited the check and I eventually got my money.

My guess is that it accidentally ended up in someone else's mailbox and they thought a golden opportunity had arrived. In the neighborhood where I used to live, the most common delivery mistakes (UPS, USPS) were to deliver to the same house number but a parallel street. Once a shipment of computer parts was delivered that way (and signed for!), and the recipient put my parts in his next garage sale rather than attempting to find the rightful owner.

So it can happen, but only the truly paranoid should worry.
#8
Old 01-26-2008, 09:40 AM
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But you did eventually get your money.

So only the excruciatingly paranoid need worry.
#9
Old 01-26-2008, 11:06 AM
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Now I'm feeling old. There are people that have never sent a paper check through the mail? I pay all my bills through paper checks. Including credit card bills and mortgages. The credit card bill for one month (for example when the whole family went by plane to Europe) can be thousands of dollars. And I'm sure many people write checks for much more than I ever do. In all my past years of writing checks, I can't think of a single time where the check did not arrive at its destination. In fact, the only time I can remember any mail really getting lost was two years ago when two people from our holiday card list both said that they didn't get my season's greetings (interestingly enough, my father and my brother were the only people who didn't get it.)

I remember last year being at the grocery store with a 20-year-old and she was astounded to see me pay at the grocery store with a paper check. She said "I have never seen anyone do that." Come ON! I refuse to believe that I'm ready to be put on the scrap-heap of history.

Last edited by Arnold Winkelried; 01-26-2008 at 11:08 AM.
#10
Old 01-26-2008, 11:21 AM
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Remember before using registered mail, doing so means your friend has to go to the post office, or be at home during business hours to get their mail. It adds a day, or more to the time it takes, and costs them the effort and cost of doing so in many cases. For me, it would mean at the very least getting the check two days later, and perhaps longer.

The increase in security is mostly imaginary. Send a one page letter along with the check, folded around the check itself. One first class stamp, and a bit of care with the addresses, and you really only worry because you wish to worry.

Tris
#11
Old 01-26-2008, 11:23 AM
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The Hope Diamond was mailed to the Smithsonian...
#12
Old 01-26-2008, 11:38 AM
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By the way, statistically speaking, if we had a million anecdotes of first class letters not being delivered in the last year, that would represent a 0.001% chance that your letter would be lost.

Tris
#13
Old 01-26-2008, 12:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Arnold Winkelried
Now I'm feeling old.
Me too. Thirty-five or so years of sending checks through the mail as an adult. It's like being asked, I've never taken a ride in a horse-drawn carriage before. Are they safe? Will the horse turn around and devour me?

No offense to the OP. It's just astounding even for those of us who have lived through it to realize the incredible rate of change the world has experienced.
#14
Old 01-26-2008, 12:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joey P
I wouldn't be worried. I'd just mail it. If you want to, you could put on the back "FOR DEPOSIT ONLY" so in theory it can only be put into a bank account. But really, I'm not even sure how someone would go about cashing a check that had someone elses name it it nowadays.
I second that. On the rare occasions that I actually need to cash a check at the bank, I feel like I've been through an FBI background check (no pun intended) in order to verify that I am the person to whom the check is made out to.

I remember the days when the signature card on file at the bank was used to verify your ID. Now, all of you damn kids be quiet and get off of my lawn..

Last edited by UltraVires; 01-26-2008 at 12:21 PM.
#15
Old 01-26-2008, 12:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Arnold Winkelried

I remember last year being at the grocery store with a 20-year-old and she was astounded to see me pay at the grocery store with a paper check. She said "I have never seen anyone do that." Come ON! I refuse to believe that I'm ready to be put on the scrap-heap of history.
I hate to say it, but it sounds plausible to me. I think it's very likely I haven't seen someone write a personal check at the grocery store in several years. I'm 29, and it wouldn't suprise me if that "several years" just mentioned was as long as a decade or so.

-FrL-
#16
Old 01-26-2008, 01:32 PM
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Put me down as another person who thinks sending personal checks through (regular first-class) mail is a normal, everyday thing, and who has never had a problem or thought there would be a problem.
#17
Old 01-26-2008, 01:37 PM
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Ok, my mild paranoia has been soothed. Regular first-class mail it is.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Arnold Winkelried
Now I'm feeling old. There are people that have never sent a paper check through the mail? I pay all my bills through paper checks. Including credit card bills and mortgages. The credit card bill for one month (for example when the whole family went by plane to Europe) can be thousands of dollars. And I'm sure many people write checks for much more than I ever do. In all my past years of writing checks, I can't think of a single time where the check did not arrive at its destination. In fact, the only time I can remember any mail really getting lost was two years ago when two people from our holiday card list both said that they didn't get my season's greetings (interestingly enough, my father and my brother were the only people who didn't get it.)

I remember last year being at the grocery store with a 20-year-old and she was astounded to see me pay at the grocery store with a paper check. She said "I have never seen anyone do that." Come ON! I refuse to believe that I'm ready to be put on the scrap-heap of history.
Well, I've only had a situation where there's a bill I would need to pay for the past four years or so, since starting school, and the only things would be my one credit card and the horrid sums of money I give to the school. The credit card is linked to my bank account, so it takes all of three clicks to make a payment whenever I want and it transfers nearly instantly. If I wanted to write a check to the school, rather than putting it on my debit card (for small fees) I would just walk into the office I was paying, since it's right there. Cash or debit/credit is just so much easier than writing out a check.
#18
Old 01-26-2008, 01:43 PM
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NinjaChick, mailing checks is so common that they even make envelopes specific to that purpose. They're called "security envelopes", and they are harder to see through to identify the contents. If you're truly concerned, buy some of them and wrap the check in a piece of paper. I see you've already decided to mail the check first class, but this might further ease your mind a bit. They're not at all expensive, even compared to non-security envelopes.
#19
Old 01-26-2008, 02:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Frylock
I hate to say it, but it sounds plausible to me. I think it's very likely I haven't seen someone write a personal check at the grocery store in several years. I'm 29, and it wouldn't suprise me if that "several years" just mentioned was as long as a decade or so.

-FrL-
Really? Could you please get those people to move here, and shop at our local Safeways? I often find myself behind someone scribbling a check.

<ASIDE>Why does it seem to be a female trait to use checks for small amounts? I've loaned $5 to female coworkers who refused to simply remember to pay it back, and insisted on writing me a check for $5. Which is a pain in the ass, because I then have this piddly little check to deposit. Once I had a bunch of T shirts printed and sold them, at cost, for $7 each. Several women paid me with checks. I don't think any men did.</ASIDE>
#20
Old 01-26-2008, 02:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BlueKangaroo
NinjaChick, mailing checks is so common that they even make envelopes specific to that purpose. They're called "security envelopes", and they are harder to see through to identify the contents. If you're truly concerned, buy some of them and wrap the check in a piece of paper. I see you've already decided to mail the check first class, but this might further ease your mind a bit. They're not at all expensive, even compared to non-security envelopes.
I am familiar with those - the same type that bank statements and stuff come in, right? I don't think I'm going to use one of those, simply because they don't sell them individually (if at all) in the bookstore here on campus, and I'm not going to make the trip all the way into town (I don't have a car) to buy a box. At the rate I send mail, a box of even 25 would last me until well into my 30s. Thanks for the suggestion, though.
#21
Old 01-26-2008, 03:18 PM
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Pshaw! I routinely mail checks for tens of thousands of dollars, and in the case of taxes (my boss's, not my own!), hundreds of thousands of dollars. As others have said, you needn't worry. We old fogies have been doing it for decades.
#22
Old 01-26-2008, 03:21 PM
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That's kind of what checks are for, you know. How do you think people used to pay bills before you could pay them online? If I didn't put checks through the mail I'd have to go pay my parking bill in person every month.
#23
Old 01-26-2008, 03:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NinjaChick
I am familiar with those - the same type that bank statements and stuff come in, right? I don't think I'm going to use one of those, simply because they don't sell them individually (if at all) in the bookstore here on campus, and I'm not going to make the trip all the way into town (I don't have a car) to buy a box. At the rate I send mail, a box of even 25 would last me until well into my 30s. Thanks for the suggestion, though.
The bookstore may sell small opaque kraft/bubble-type containers for mailing CDs and such. But really, as already suggested, just an ordinary envelope and wrapping the check in a sheet or two of paper is more than sufficient.
#24
Old 01-26-2008, 04:32 PM
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Count me in the crowd who believes it to be safe. I've sent some very large checks via mail, including one for 45 grand. I have never had one stolen.
#25
Old 01-26-2008, 05:17 PM
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Just to be safe I wouldn't put in in a card- there's a UL that a dishonest mail employee looking for money looks in cards first.
#26
Old 01-26-2008, 05:29 PM
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At work, we send all our checks via registered mail, but we're talking about amounts up to half a million there.

The insurance carriers we represent send our retainer checks via regular first class mail, usually in windowed envelopes that show "pay to the order of..." and our address. If THOSE get through, I think you're alright.
#27
Old 01-26-2008, 11:16 PM
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Pretty damn safe. I have never had any problems.
#28
Old 01-30-2008, 02:41 AM
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It's probably after the bell, but I thought I'd add this:

Back in 1980-1981 I would periodically mail $100.00 cash to my then-girlfriend (today kaylasmom), along with a three-to-four page Brailled letter, in an unsealed manila envelope marked "FREE MATTER FOR THE BLINID". Never once did it go astray.

NinjaChick, did you at any time consider wiring the money to the guy?

Last edited by kaylasdad99; 01-30-2008 at 02:45 AM. Reason: read the entire thread. Some of this needed removal.
#29
Old 01-30-2008, 03:30 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wee Bairn
Just to be safe I wouldn't put in in a card- there's a UL that a dishonest mail employee looking for money looks in cards first.
I am a postal employee. I can't tell you specifics, but I can tell you a little. In western democracies, theft and mail tampering by postal employees is uncommon. It happens sometimes of course, and those people usually wind up getting caught. Sorters are generally under video surveillance, and while mailmen are not, potentially dishonest ones are faced with the problem that they can only have a small number of articles go missing over a career. In general, even an employee of dubious honesty is smart enough to know that the five dollars in little Johnny's birthday card from Grandma is not worth loss of a job and a criminal record. If you want to get into petty pilfering, it's probably better to work in retail. the postal services are a bit too hot.

I can also say that the old stories that we "shine lights through letters" are false. I operate machinery at 40 000 letters per hour. Even if we wanted to pointlessly inspect each letter this way, it would be impossible. We can feel coins in a letter, but not cheques. And most cheques - in this country at least - are marked "Not negotiable" (only named recipient can cash them).

Mail away.

Last edited by TheLoadedDog; 01-30-2008 at 03:32 AM.
#30
Old 01-30-2008, 06:43 AM
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By coincidence, for the first time in my life a check that I mailed (apparently) went astray. It was a $150 check for a water bill that I sent out 3 months ago. The latest bill came, and it showed the $150 as past due. I checked with my bank, and the $150 check was never cashed.

It's kind of a problem now. I had the following conversation with the water company customer service rep:

Me: If I send you the check for the full amount, will you agree that if you get the old check, you won't cash it?

Them: Sorry, we can't agree to that. We just get too many checks.

Me: Because I know what's gonna happen. If I send you a new check, a month later you're gonna deposit the old one too and mess up my checking account.

Them: Well, if the check bounces, we charge you $30.

Me: Exactly. And anyway, why should I spend the money to stop payment on that check? As far as I'm concerned, I sent you a payment in a properly stamped envelope on the proper day, and if you don't have it, it's not my problem.

Them: Well maybe the postal service lost it.

Me: Maybe, but it's unlikely, and again, that's not my problem. I'm going to wait at least 6 months before sending you the money, so that by then the bank will consider the check stale.

_____________

(I doubt even waiting 6 months will be safe -- the water company probably deposits 10000 checks a day and I doubt they are scrutinized very carefully to see if they are stale.)
#31
Old 01-30-2008, 07:11 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yabob
Really? Could you please get those people to move here, and shop at our local Safeways? I often find myself behind someone scribbling a check.

<ASIDE>Why does it seem to be a female trait to use checks for small amounts? I've loaned $5 to female coworkers who refused to simply remember to pay it back, and insisted on writing me a check for $5. Which is a pain in the ass, because I then have this piddly little check to deposit. Once I had a bunch of T shirts printed and sold them, at cost, for $7 each. Several women paid me with checks. I don't think any men did.</ASIDE>
The people I see who write checks for smaller purchases and groceries tend to be older people who don't use debit cards for whatever reason. I've also been to financial seminars where the speaker advised us to write checks for every purchase to track spending and keep ourselves honest. I think that's stupid, so I use my debit card for every purchase.

Robin
#32
Old 01-30-2008, 09:32 AM
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yabob,
As to the question of why women are more likely to write checks for small amounts? The answer is simple--because women carry purses, which thus enable them to easily carry checkbooks. Men don't carry purses, and generally don't carry checkbooks, unless they have the intention of using a check.

There are probably other reasons as well--and many women would find the check for $5 or $7 as annoying as you did, but if you routinely carry a purse and a checkbook, writing checks for piddling amounts seems more reasonable than if you don't.
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