Criminals around the country are increasingly stealing mail with checks in them from U.S. Postal Service mailboxes, “washing” the checks with simple nail polish remover 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. In recent years 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. In other instances criminals can either steal or buy a USPS mailbox key which are sold on the Dark Web, that part of the Internet where criminals buy and sell goods and services for as much as $1,000. Some criminals, rather than use the “washed” checks themselves are now selling the checks on the Dark Web to other criminals directly. In addition, criminals can also can use the account number of your check to create counterfeit checks to access your checking account.
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. However, mailing checks in official U.S. Postal Service blue mailboxes we now know 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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