Stealing checks from the mail and "washing" them used to be a very common crime. Now it is back with a vengeance. The US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) received 33,000 reports of incidents involving mail-carrier robberies and mail theft, up from 24,000 reports in 2019.
How Check Scams Work
- Residential mailboxes with the raised flag indicating outgoing mail are a big draw for criminals as they often contain bill payments with personal checks included.
- Thieves also go “fishing” inside the US Post Office blue mailboxes by inserting long flexible items with adhesive on the end in hopes of pulling out checks.
- Another way into mailboxes is to steal a master key from a postal worker. These “arrow keys” open multiple mailboxes and sell for between $5,000 and $10,000 on the black market.
- Once they have stolen personal checks, thieves “wash” the ink off with household chemicals and fill it out to a new recipient for whatever amount they wish.
What You Should Know
- Mail theft cases used to be more prevalent on the West Coast. However, recently more incidents have occurred in the eastern US, particularly around larger cities such as Philadelphia, New York City, and Washington, DC.
- Instead of the criminals cashing the forged checks themselves, they often sell the "washed" checks through black-market channels, for around $175 each.
What You Should Do
- Bring checks inside the post office for mailing.
- When you place outgoing mail in your mailbox, don’t put up the flag and try not to leave outgoing mail in your mailbox for long periods of time.
- Keep an eye on your account balances and report any suspicious activity to your financial institution right away.
Knowledge is power. You have the power to protect yourself from scams. Please share these tips with friends and family.