The Grinch can steal your Christmas checks

The United States Postal Service has seen the practice of “mailbox fishing,” the practice of thieves stuffing letters through mailboxes, finding checks, and then altering and cashing them.

“Where there’s a will there’s a way, and crime doesn’t stop,” says US Postal Inspector Glen McKechnie. “They all use the darkness. They go at night when the streets are empty and nobody is out, and that’s when we know they’re on fishing expeditions.”

One New Yorker slipped a sticky-covered belt through a narrow hole in a mailbox and appeared to be fishing through the mail. When she filmed him with his phone and asked him to stop what he was doing, the man continued and said he didn’t care if she was on camera before riding off on his moped.

The New York City Police Department has posted signs on some blue mailboxes warning people about mailbox fishing.

“Do you mail a check or money order? Beware of mailbox fishing!” signs, explaining that people should “drop mail with checks directly into the post office.”

A ring believed to be responsible for stealing more than $100,000 in checks earlier this year has been dismantled; in September, another suspect was caught with $84,000 in checks. Two checks for $21,583 were removed from the mailbox of New Hampshire Senator Jean Shahin’s election campaign; and in August, police in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, arrested two teenagers accused of stealing and altering $250,000 in checks from mailboxes.

USPS worker on NYC street.
There are steps the USPS can take to help keep people from fishing their packages.
Getty Images

Isabelle Vincent said she once unboxed and cashed two checks she sent in the mail, turning them into more than $1,500.

“Will we ever see a world without mailboxes? I mean, that would be really sad,” he says.

Vincent’s checks were checked, someone washed the payee, wrote a different name, and then cashed the checks. Although her bank eventually reimbursed her for the loss, she said she now only cares about sending checks to the post office or paying electronically.

“Don’t check the box. Go to the post office in person, he advises. “It’s a little extra time and you don’t feel comfortable doing it in front of where you work, which is where I do it, but at least you know you’re going to have a check. reach the destination.”

McKechnie advises people to place their mail near the time the boxes are picked up so the mail doesn’t sit in the box overnight when fishing happens.

“Every blue collection box on the street corner has a bin sweep time. We ask that customers put their mail in a box until collection time. If mail sits in that box overnight, it can be stolen.

A postal worker is loading a USPS truck.
The United States Postal Service is taking steps to minimize fishing.
AFP via Getty Images

Postal service inspectors are cracking down on this practice and have taken steps to make mailbox fishing more difficult. Thousands of boxes were retrofitted to remove the old swing door to narrow the mail slot. Although this has led to a decrease in thefts, they still continue. McKechnie said if you believe you have been a victim, you should contact the police.

“We work with the precincts to collect that data,” he says. “We are a postal control service. We need to instill confidence in the mail. These boxes are secure and we aim to post the message before the final collection time.

Fishing turned into armed robbery. Last month, a Chicago mail carrier was robbed at gunpoint for a mailbox key that gives thieves access to public mailboxes. In Santa Monica, California, thieves hit mailboxes and stole their contents.

“When you mail a check, look at your statements. Make sure the check is saved or the correct person cashes the check,” McKechnie said, adding that victims should report any theft to police and the Postal Service.

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