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Neighbors believe their mail is being stolen from USPS boxes, stolen check altered for $20,000

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Posted at 6:00 AM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-17 06:51:43-04

BALTIMORE — The United States Postal Inspection Service is investigating complaints of mail theft from U.S. Postal Service blue collection boxes in the Govans area.

Community members say they recently mailed checks, but they weren’t delivered. Instead, they believe someone is fishing them out of a local post office box and using their personal information to steal money.

Don Schiller stays away from online banking because he doesn’t want his account to get hacked, and yet, his information was compromised after someone intercepted his mailed checks and used his banking information to pay their own bills.

He said he placed five checks in the same post office box, one week apart. Not one made it to its destination.

“They paid rent with one, they paid a utility bill, and they tried to pay three others that the bank blocked,” Schiller said.

He started seeing charges on his account to companies he didn’t recognize and for amounts that were different than what he had written.

“They tried to pay their utility bill, $162 to AT&T, we don’t have an AT&T account,” Schiller said. “They made one withdrawal for $2,000 for their rent payment.

The most brazen attempt involved a check written to the Baltimore Sun for $124.15.

“They tried to alter the check to make it a $20,000 withdrawal,” said Schiller.

His bank, M&T, caught it before it was cashed, and Schiller had to open a new account. Not only did the thieves steal his checks but they used his account information for their online payments.

“And I went and sat down with the bank manager and said, ‘Does this happen very often?’ She said, ‘You’re the fifth person whose come in today that this has happened to.’ So, it’s going on, it’s happening a lot,” said Schiller.

Other neighbors reported similar instances on Facebook. A Stoneleigh resident said the check they mailed to a utility was diverted, altered, and cashed. A second neighbor commented that it happened to them and the thieves got a good amount of money.

“That has been a common trend for a number of years where someone is targeting the U.S postal box,” said Albert Bulson, senior vice president of risk and operations market manager for M&T Bank.

Bulson recently saw this happen in Roland Park and Ellicott City.

"There were quite a few customers that were impacted,” Bulson said. “At that point, when we spoke to our customers, our advice was stop using the blue mailbox drop off.”

Thieves use chemicals to wash off the handwriting then sell the checks online.

“They gather information, and then they sell it, and someone buys it and then it’s just this cycle,” said Bulson.

Last week, WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii asked a USPS spokesperson how customers can have confidence in the mail system and what’s being done to investigate these complaints. A representative with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service sent Sofastaii the statement below.

"Every day, the U.S. Postal Service safely, securely, and efficiently delivers mail to more than 150 million addresses, including millions of checks, money orders, credit cards and parcels. Unfortunately, such items are also attractive to thieves. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (Postal Inspection Service) can confirm a recent increase in mail theft complaints and robberies of USPS employees. This increase is likely attributable to a variety of factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic and its detrimental impact on people’s lives, mental health, and financial stability; growth in USPS parcel volume as eCommerce business continues to rise; and the mailing of Economic Impact Payments (EIP) and Unemployment Insurance payments during the pandemic."

The spokesperson added that the Postal Inspection Service is engaged on multiple fronts with various partners to combat mail theft and prosecute mail thieves.

“I don’t the trust mail anymore. I think it’s really sad when you can’t trust the U.S. post office,” said Schiller. “I’d say stay away from the mail. We’ve been burned and I don’t want to get burned again.”

If you’re mailing anything valuable drop it off inside the post office. If that’s not possible, mail these items close to the collection time on the public mailbox.

And no matter how you make your payments, Bulson recommends setting up fraud alerts with your bank so you can be notified right away of any large transactions or unusual activity on your account.

To report suspected mail theft, call the United States Postal Inspection Service at 1-877-876-2455. Or click here to file a report online.

The USPIS also provided these tips to better protect your mail from thieves:

  • Don’t let incoming or outgoing mail sit in your mailbox. You can significantly reduce the chance of being victimized by simply removing your mail from your mailbox every day.
  • Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after delivery, especially if you’re expecting checks, credit cards, or other negotiable items. If you won’t be home when the items are expected, ask a trusted neighbor to pick up your mail.
  • Just as you wouldn’t leave the door to your home unlocked while you’re away, you shouldn’t let mail accumulate in your mailbox. Don't leave your mail unattended for extended periods. Have your Post Office hold your mail while you’re away.
  • When expecting a package delivery, track the shipment at www.usps.com. You can sign up for email and text alerts at www.myusps.com.
  • If you don’t receive a check or other valuable mail you’re expecting, contact the issuing agency.
  • If you change your address, immediately notify your Post Office and anyone with whom you do business via the mail.
  • Hand outgoing mail to your letter carrier, or mail it at the Post Office, an official blue USPS collection box on the street, or a secure receptacle at your place of business.
  • Never send cash or coins in the mail. Use checks or money orders. Ask your bank for "secure" checks that are more difficult to alter.
  • If you have concerns about security in your neighborhood, consider installing a lockable mailbox or obtaining PO Box service from your local Post Office.
  • Consider starting a neighborhood watch program. By exchanging work and vacation schedules with trusted neighbors, you can watch each other’s mailboxes and residences.

Click here for additional tips on how to safeguard your mail from thieves.