News10NBC Investigates: Checks stolen from USPS blue boxes, washed and cashed

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – If you’ve dropped any mail in a USPS blue box lately, you may want to ensure it got to where it was going, especially if it was a check. 

A number of people in Irondequoit and Rochester have learned that checks they mailed to pay bills have instead been intercepted, altered and cashed by scammers. 

As News10NBC has been reporting, mail carriers have increasingly been targeted by robbers in this region.  In some of those cases, postal keys have been stolen, which could give the robbers or any associates, access to the blue boxes and the mail inside. 

Chuck Hinkel pays most of his bills online, but there are still a few he pays by mail.  He usually uses the blue collection boxes at the Irondequoit Post Office on East Ridge Road, “My health insurance and my car insurance, I dropped them into the mailbox and that was on May 13,” he recalls.

Ten days later, he got a call from his bank who had a woman at the counter trying to cash one of those checks, “Luckily, my bank did a good job, they tried to match my signature on that check with my signature that they have on file, and it didn’t match,” Hinkel says.

A copy of the check that Hinkel shared with News10NBC shows it had been washed, meaning whoever stole it, used household chemicals to erase some of the ink and rewrite the name and amount.  In this case, they even changed the subject line to say, “Cleaning and babysitting” but Hinkel doesn’t have kids. 

“The bank said that they had four people come in, in the last two weeks that had the same thing happen to them,” Hinkel says.  He posted about it on Facebook to alert others and quickly heard from several friends who experienced the same thing.  One of those friends had a copy of her stolen check that had been washed and made out to the same woman who tried to cash Hinkel’s check.

Investigators tell us often in these cases, the person attempting to cash the check isn’t the person who actually washed it, but an intermediary hired or enticed to tried to cash it. 

In the past, USPS has actually warned people against using collection boxes on certain days or at specific times because of an increased risk for mail theft.  But, if there are keys out there in the public, it no longer matters how close the next USPS pick up is to when you drop off your mail. 

So, for the time being, the suggestion is to walk your mail inside the post office, and hand it to the person at the counter.  If that’s not feasible, use the inside collection slots that deposit directly into the post office.  Do not allow your mail to sit overnight in either a blue box or your own mailbox. 

The US Postal Service is the law enforcement, crime prevention, and security arm of the Postal Service.  A spokeswoman for the agency could not elaborate on any ongoing investigations in the area but said, “We work to ensure America’s confidence in the U.S. Mail, enforcing more than 200 federal laws, investigating crimes that may adversely affect postal customers, the U.S. Mail, or the postal system. U.S. Postal Inspectors are federal law enforcement agents who conduct investigations of postal-related crimes, such as mail fraud and theft, violent crimes against postal employees, revenue fraud, dangerous mail, illegal drugs in the mail, and child exploitation conducted via the mail.

Every day, the U.S. Postal Service safely and efficiently delivers millions of checks, money orders, credit cards, and merchandise. Unfortunately, such items are also attractive to thieves. That’s why Postal Inspectors across the country are at work to protect your mail. But with deliveries to more than 163 million addresses, we cannot do the job alone. Here are some proactive steps that both individuals and businesses can take to protect their mail and parcels from thieves:

  • If you do not 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 inside at the Post Office, or a secure receptacle at your place of business.
  • Never send cash or coins through the mail. Use checks or money orders. Ask your bank for “secure” checks that are more difficult to alter.

If you see a mail thief, call police immediately, then report it to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455 (say “Theft”). If you notice something unusual or damaged on a mail receptacle, please contact your local Post Office to report it, and notify Postal Inspectors. or calling us at 877-876-2455. By analyzing information from your complaint, Postal Inspectors can determine if your problem is part of a larger mail theft investigation – the information you provide can assist Inspectors in identifying suspects.”