I have good news and bad news for you today about the U.S. mail. While some politicians have expressed doubt about the security of mail-in ballots, there is no significant evidence to support those doubts. That is the good news. Unfortunately, the bad news is that criminals around the country are stealing mail with checks in them from U.S. Postal Service mailboxes, “washing” the checks to remove the name of the person or company to whom the check was made out and then writing in their own name. In other instances, the criminals will also change the amount of the check. Last February Boston and New Orleans, for example, had large numbers of such mailbox thefts of checks that were then altered and cashed. 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.
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. However, mailing checks in official U.S. Postal Service blue mailboxes is also problematic.
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.
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