We have all heard the phrase “the check’s in the mail.” But some who are sending checks to pay bills have been discovering their payment’s been stolen straight from the mail, and police are seeing a lot more of it.
Mailbox fishing, check washing and forgery — the money that is going missing for some residents is starting to add up in Massachusetts.
Elaine Hecker said she is always very careful about paying her bills.
“I handle all the finances, and I’ve never had a problem,” she said.
Last spring, the retiree wrote a $450 check to pay a bill and went to the East Falmouth Post Office to mail it.
“The post office was closed so I just threw them in the outside box,” Hecker said. “And I always check to make sure it goes down.”
Her mail went down – but came back up later that night when thieves broke into the mailbox and stole it.
“I thought what the heck, how did that happen?” Hecker said.
The mailbox bandits gave Elaine’s check a bath, literally washing away the ink.
A copy of the forged check showed what they did next: making it out to themselves so they could cash it and bumped the amount to almost $10,000.
“I can see writing behind where they changed the name,” she said. “They changed the date. I can see that too.”
The thieves cashed their handiwork and Elaine was out $9,700.
“Awful,” she said. “Awful. How am I going to get my money back?”
“It seems to be very widespread,” Lt. Michael Simoneau of Falmouth Police said.
It happened to Catherine Moniz, too – in the same town.
“I couldn’t believe it. They got it out of the mailbox?” she said.
She told 7 Investigates she dropped a check in a North Falmouth mailbox one night recently.
“That’s out of my common practice, I usually go into the post office every morning, and the one time I put the single check in there, they got it,” she said.
Police said in Catherine’s case, thieves used information from her check to print out several fake ones. They cashed one for $1,800.
“I was really dumbfounded, I couldn’t believe it,” she said.
According to the United States Postal Service, more than $1.3 million in checks have been stolen out of Massachusetts mailboxes this year.
There are some simple things you can do to protect yourself:
- It’s best to drop off your mail inside the post office.
- If you have to use the blue box, only drop your mail in right before a scheduled pickup. That way it won’t be sitting in the mailbox overnight.
- If you leave letters and bills in your own mailbox for the carrier to collect, don’t let them sit there very long.
- Try to keep an eye on your mailbox until your postal carrier comes.
You can also ask your bank for what’s called “secure checks,” which are more difficult to alter.
“People need to be vigilant and be aware,” Moniz said.
Both she and Hecker’s banks reimbursed them for the money that was taken.
Investigators say if you think someone has stolen one of your checks from the mail – contact your bank first and then call police.
For more information about mail theft, click here.
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