Your mail is in jeopardy. As we are head into one of the busiest times for postal carriers, thieves are targeting them and putting your money and identity at risk.
"These guys are bragging about this and uploading all the information from their heist on encrypted communication platforms we oversee as part of our mission to understand the online fraud ecosystem in the United States" David Maimon, Georgia State University criminologist and Director of the Evidence-Based Cybersecurity Research Group explained. He and his team investigate crime trends involving stolen checks, including how they are put up for sale on the dark web.
"North Carolina is one of those places where check theft emerged from." Maimon said thieves are getting the stolen checks by either swiping them from your mailbox or robbing postal carriers and stealing their keys. "Keys for USPS mailboxes, the keys may open residential locations too, so we are talking about thousands of envelopes every day."
Maimon provided pictures that his team found on underground platforms where thieves post all the stolen mail, which include the stolen checks for sale either as is, or they wash them, which means they use chemicals to erase your ink and change the dollar amount and also who the check is made out to.
"Whether the check is washed or not pretty much determines the price of the check as well."
Maimon's team found advertisements on the dark web asking for $200-300 for personal checks and $250-$600 for business checks. The business check up for sale had been altered from a June date to September and had the amount and name of the payee changed.
This type of fraud actually happened to an ABC11 viewer. She told Troubleshooter Diane Wilson that her $25 check was washed and cashed for $2,500.
Across the country, investigators have noted a spike in mail theft incidents -- such as mailbox thefts and postal carrier robberies.
"Every day, the U.S. Postal Service safely delivers mail to more than 160 million addresses; mail that includes checks, money orders, credit cards, and merchandise. Unfortunately, such items are also attractive to thieves. While most mail deliveries reach their intended recipients, mail theft can and does occur," U.S. Postal inspector Jessica Adams said
To protect your mail, avoid using blue mailboxes. When you have the opportunity, go inside the postal office and drop off your mail. If you must use the blue mailboxes, do it before the last pick-up of the day as postal inspectors say mail theft most often occurs in the overnight hours. When it comes to your mailbox, don't let mail sit in there either, get it right away.
Also, use online bill pay when possible. This will reduce the number of checks you write. If you must write a check, use a gel ink pen. Certain types of gel ink cannot be washed off because they permeate below the surface of the paper.
If you are a witness to mail theft or see suspicious activity around your neighborhood mailboxes, you need to report it. Inspectors must rely on the customer to report stolen mail. If you believe you are a victim of mail theft, you should report it to the local police and the Postal Inspection Service by calling the hotline at 877-876-2455 (say "theft") or visiting our website.