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'Red flag bandits' targeting Harford County mailboxes, stealing and cashing checks

Posted at 10:48 AM, Mar 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-26 17:27:53-04

FALLSTON, Md. — Sheriff's deputies in Harford County say if the flags on your mailboxes are up, then you're a target.

Dubbed as 'red flag bandits', investigators say thieves are stealing checks, sometimes making them out in fake names, and then cashing them out.

It almost happened to Pat German who lives along Fallsmont Drive.

"He had his shoes off, he came out, and he said it's gone and so it the mail and the flag is still up," German said, recalling the moments her husband realized someone was out messing with her mailbox.

She's lived on the block for more than 20 years, and says her husband spotted a white sedan camped out in front of her mailbox for several minutes and when he got outside to look, their mail -- including two personal checks -- was gone.

"The amounts that we had on the checks were small. Actually, it cost me more to put out the 'stop payment' than it did on the actual personal check, but don't do it because it'll be a lot more money you're out of," German said.

Harford County Sheriff's Major Donald Gividend says the bandits have gotten away with it 19 times since September of last year -- Fallston being one of the hot spots.

The thieves would peruse neighborhoods looking for outgoing mail, then swipe the checks in seconds.

"Usually, it can be several days later because the person doesn't realize they have become a victim until that check is fraudulently passed along with a higher payment amount on it," Gividend said.

The sheriff's office has struggled to track down any culprit, but says they believe it's multiple bandits targeting mailboxes.

It's why German says she's learned a valuable lesson.

"I'm not putting checks in the mail [anymore] and I'll be talking to the mailman and if I have mail going out, I'll probably catch him and just hand it directly to him," she said.

The sheriff's office has already sent out a robo-call warning people of the scheme.

The easiest fix to prevent these bandits is to start paying all of your bills online or go to your actual brick-and-mortar post off to drop off mail.

If you think you are a victim, get an incident report from authorities and then reach out to your bank.