Short Answer — When your check is stolen and cashed, you can usually get your money back, but this will depend on the results of the bank’s investigation. You should report the theft to local law enforcement, the bank on which the check is drawn, and the payor as soon as possible. You should also report thefts of government checks, such as social security or tax refund checks, to the issuing agency.
What to Do If a Check Is Stolen and Cashed
When a check is stolen and cashed, you may need to make several reports to law enforcement, banks, the payor, the post office, and/or government agencies.
You may be able to get your money back, but whether you can do so will depend on how quickly you report the theft and whether the bank decides to refund the money after investigating.
The sooner you report the theft, the higher the chances are that the bank will be able to issue a stop payment order before the check is cashed or find out who cashed the check and get you a refund.
Below, we summarize the steps that you should take. We contacted federal agencies like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), as well as several financial institutions (including Chase Bank, Navy Federal Credit Union, and Wells Fargo) to confirm this information.
Report to Local Law Enforcement
You should report all stolen checks to local law enforcement. Though the exact laws vary by state, states may impose civil and/or criminal penalties for check theft.
Note that there may be a statute of limitations, which defines a time limit for bringing legal actions; it is best to report the theft as soon as possible. You may also want to consult a local attorney to be sure that you know your rights and understand the laws in your state.
Report to the Bank
In addition to contacting law enforcement, you should report check theft to the bank on which the check was drawn. The bank’s fraud or claims department will investigate your case.
If you were the original recipient of the check and are not an account holder at the issuing bank, the payor may need to file the dispute.
Bank customers may have a limited amount of time after a check is processed to report its theft.
While none of the banks we spoke with impose time limits for customers to report fraudulent check cashing, policies can vary depending on your Deposit Account Agreement. It’s best to review your agreement and contact your bank as soon as you know the check is cashed.
Banks are generally able to trace where and when checks were cashed; they can request paper or digital copies of endorsed checks from the cashing institution. Since check cashers generally require the person cashing the check to present a government-issued ID, they may be able to find the individual who fraudulently cashed the check.
After investigating the theft, the bank will typically refund the fraudulently-paid check to the payor. The person the check was written to can then request the payor to reissue the check.
Report to the Payor
If you are the original recipient of a stolen check and are able to report the theft to the bank, it is still important to report the check theft to the payor, or the person who sent the check to you.
The payor can instruct the bank to report the theft to the bank’s check verification system for investigation. The bank may also place a fraud alert on the payor’s account or give the payor the option to open a new checking account to protect their funds.
If a check is stolen but not yet cashed, banks usually recommend that the payor put a stop payment on the check. If the check has been cashed, the payor should file a dispute claim with the bank. The bank will return the funds to the payor’s account if the claim is resolved successfully.
Report Identity Theft to Government Agencies
If you suspect that you’re facing identity theft, you can file a report with the FTC online or by calling (877) 438-4338. The FTC will help you create an action plan, track your progress, and pre-fill forms and letters for you so you can recover your identity.
If you suspect that your Social Security number has been compromised, you should directly contact the Social Security Administration.
Stolen Tax Refund Checks
If you do not receive your tax refund check, you should file a claim with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS can trace the refund and investigate any potential fraud.
If tax refund money is fraudulently deposited into a customer’s bank account, the account holder should report the fraudulent deposit to the bank for investigation.
Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Report
If the stolen check contained your personal information or you suspect identity theft, you can also place a fraud alert on your credit report by contacting the three major credit bureaus:
- Equifax: Online or by phone at (800) 525-6285
- Experian: Online or by phone at (888) 397-3742
- Transunion: Online or by phone at (800) 680-7289
Report Stolen Mail to the United States Postal Service
You can report stolen mail, including mailed checks, to the United States Postal Service online or by calling (877) 876-2455. The United States Postal Inspection Service will then investigate the theft.