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I 've read in US forums that the IRS might mail you a check if you have a tax return. I 've also heard from expatriates living overseas who received such a check that they "simply" mailed it back to their bank in the US.

Coming from Europe I don't believe I've ever seen checks being casually mailed around, even back when checks were actually a thing . Are there any precautions that people operating in the US banking system can take under such circumstances?

E.g. I know that in some parts of the world, if you manually strike(with a pen) two parallel lines diagonally across the face of the check, that ensures that no one else can cash it, but you. This buys some peace of mind as in the event of the check falling in the wrong hands, it's useless to any third person (even if they forge your signature) and may only be deposited in an account that bears your name.

So what are some typical safety-oriented practices when mailing checks through the postal system or when carrying checks on one's person?

  • Is this a hypothetical or are you being asked to put a check in the mail and are uncomfortable about it? – quid Nov 5 at 0:52
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    "in some parts of the world, if you manually strike(with a pen) two parallel lines diagonally across the face of the check, that ensures that no one else can cash it, but you." That's not a thing in the USA. – RonJohn Nov 5 at 3:36
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    For one thing always make IRS checks to "Internal Revenue Service" it is pretty easy to change "IRS" to "MRS {Scammer's surname}" – JohnFx Nov 5 at 4:11
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    Since you mentioned checks mailed to people from the IRS, it's worth mentioning that regulations in the US hold banks more accountable for Treasury checks vs "normal" checks (from a business or individual). So, US banks typically apply more rigorous guidelines to ensuring that aren't cashed fraudulently (since there's more risk to them if fraud does occur). – dwizum Nov 5 at 19:14
  • (1) US tax return is the form you file, either on paper or electronically; tax refund is the money you get back if your return shows you overpaid (2) USPS rarely loses mail, robbers and thieves go for cash or cards over checks, and mail to a bank or business is processed with multiple controls; the significant risk is checks mailed to individuals, often placed in an unlocked mailbox that may be far from the house, but even there the risk is greater to Social Security or pension checks that arrive the same day every month, more than a maybe once a year at varying time tax refund – dave_thompson_085 Nov 6 at 10:27
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Are there any precautions that people operating in the US banking system can take under such circumstances?

If I needed to mail a large check within the USA then I would go to the post office and pay $5 for a "certified letter with return receipt". That way, I'll have proof that the letter got where I wanted it to go.

If I need to mail a check internationally, I'd probably FedEx it (even to the IRS).

  • USPS Certified mail is uninsured, so if it gets lost, you get nothing. Insuring mail is ridiculously expensive, and limited to $5000. FedEx doesn't exist in many countries, and insured sendings are equally expensive. – Aganju Nov 5 at 13:28
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    @Aganju I never said certified mail was insured. And you don't need to insure it. If your certified letter or FedEx Envelope doesn't get where it's going, you simply stop the check. Besides, the USPS takes good care of Certified mail, and you can track FedEx packages. – RonJohn Nov 5 at 13:40
  • Even if insured, what is the actual value of a check? It's not like mailing currency. Neither USPS or FedEx would reimburse for the actual amount the check is written for. – spuck Nov 5 at 17:56
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    @spuck I've never insured an envelope with a check, and neither did places like Vanguard or Fidelity even back when mailing $100K+ checks was common. – RonJohn Nov 5 at 17:58
  • @RonJohn, in full agreement. It's not so much the insurance as the traceability, which the USPS just about gives up on as soon as it leaves our borders. – spuck Nov 5 at 18:03
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The bank is supposed to match the name on the check to the name of the person depositing it. However, nowadays, a lot of people use online depositing, which means the bank never looks at the check.

Also, if someone else deposits the check, you were never paid, and still have the right to request to be paid; so the risk is basically on the payer's side.

The bank can find out who deposited the check obviously, and are supposed to have his ID.

Otherwise, there is no security.

Punishment is rather harsh, and the chance to get caught is rather high, so not many people try to steal checks.

[I agree that the system is pretty ridiculous, but millions of people grew up with it, and humans are not willing to change easily]

  • which means the bank never looks at the check. That's not really true - in most financial institutions, mobile deposited checks have a significantly higher audit rate vs other channels (i.e. ATM deposits). So, it's actually more likely that a human will manually review a mobile check transaction. – dwizum Nov 5 at 19:07

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