Scam of the day – February 16, 2017 – New twist on mail theft

Identity theft is a high tech, low tech and no tech crime and while we often tend to focus our attention on high tech identity theft tactics such as spear phishing, no tech tactics such as fishing for mail with a plastic bottle covered in glue that is lowered into blue public mailboxes to capture mail being sent with checks is making a comeback.  In the Bronx, New York just in the last year police and postal inspectors have made about 150 arrests according to Donna Harris of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

I have warned you for years about leaving mail with checks or credit card information in your personal mailbox outside of your home with the flag raised to alert your postal carrier that there is mail in your box to be retrieved is a bad idea because it also alerts identity thieves who can easily steal the mail.  Once they have the checks, they can “wash” the name or even the amount of the check and make the check payable to the thief. They also can use the account number of your check to create counterfeit checks to access your checking account.


This is an easy crime to avoid.  The best course of action is to pay your bills electronically and avoid the problem altogether.  However, if you cannot do so or prefer to send a paper check by mail, you should use a gel pen that is not easily “washed” to write your checks and you should mail envelopes with checks in them directly from inside the post office.

Scam of the day – July 15, 2014 – Mailbox identity theft danger

Identity theft can be high tech, low tech or no tech and although much attention is often focused on computer phishing schemes, malware and other high tech methods of turning you into a victim of identity theft, low tech and no tech methods of identity theft can be equally as effective in stealing your identity.  One low tech method that has been around for a long time, but seems to be making a resurgence is when identity thieves put strong glue like the kind used on mouse trap paper is put on the inside of the swing-down chute in the mailboxes you find scattered throughout your city.  This glue traps mail on the chute rather than letting it go down into the mailbox when the lid is closed making it easy pickings for an identity thief who can be looking for checks you may be mailing to a business or a credit card payment.  Your check can either be altered through a process called “washing” so that the check is made to appear to be payable to the identity thief.   The identity thieves can also take the information from your check and make counterfeit checks in order to access your checking account.   They may also steal the information from your credit card statement to gain access to your credit card.

Another similar type of scam involves the identity thief putting the glue on a small object at the end of a string and lowering the string into the mailbox to go fishing for mail with checks, credit card statements or other information that can be used to make you a victim of identity theft.


Although it seems like you should be able to trust the U.S. mail, you would be prudent to mail payments and letters with financial information directly from the post office rather than use vulnerable mailboxes.  You also should consider making your payments electronically which is even safer.  When you do use checks, you should use a type of pen called a gel pen which you can purchase at any office supply store.  The ink from these pens is almost impossible to wash off of a check by a counterfeiter.  Finally, do not put mail with personal information or checks in your own personal mailbox at your home.  Often people do this and raise the red flag on the mail box to inform the letter carrier  that there is outgoing mail to be picked up from your box.  Unfortunately, it also informs an identity thief cruising your neighborhood that there are “goodies” in your mailbox.


Scam of the day – November 28, 2012 – Check washing

Even paranoids have enemies and regular readers of this blog/website are aware that, due to security issues, I strongly advise against using a debit card for purchases.  I advise that you only use your debit card as an ATM card and even there, you should be careful when doing so to be on the lookout for tampered ATM machines that can steal your information.  You can read earlier posts for more details.  Credit cards carry their own risks and even though federal law limits your liability for unauthorized, fraudulent purchases to no more than $50, a compromised credit card can still cause you problems.  For those of you thinking about making your holiday purchases and other purchases by way of a good old fashioned check, you too should be wary.  It is a very simple thing for identity thieves to steal your check from your mailbox if you put it in an envelope to pay a bill and leave it in your mailbox outside your home.  Identity thieves also break into corner mail collection boxes and steal mail with checks too.  Finally, rogue clerks at stores may steal your checks as well.  It is then a simple thing to take ordinary bleach or other similar liquids to wash clean the name of the person to whom the check is made out as well as the amount of the check and then insert the identity thief’s name and a figure that would make you blush.


Fortunately, you are not powerless and the solution, in fact is quite simple.  Instead of writing your checks using a common ball point pen switch to a gel pen which is a common type of pen that you can buy anywhere, but whose ink will not vanish under chemical washes.  Fountain pens also do not use the type of ink that can be readily washed, but the gel pen is simpler and easier to use.  Another important thing to remember is to cross shred your personal documents including checks that you no longer need and are discarding.  Identity thieves go through trash for their treasure including checks that they can use to make counterfeit checks using your account.  Finally check your banks statements promptly after receiving them for signs of theft.  If you do report checking account fraud more than thirty days after receiving your bank statement, the bank does not have to reimburse you for fraudulent, counterfeit checks.