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Inspector investigating thefts from USPS blue mailboxes

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Thieves steal checks from government mailboxes, forge them and then cash them in banks in the region.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – It’s a simple task that many do without thinking twice – drop mail in a blue USPS mailbox.

“In August, I paid my bill by check, mailed it in a mailbox and forgot about it,” said Marcey Goulder Forman.

But that check she left in a Worthington mailbox would not be forgotten for long. About a month later, she received a notice stating that her bill had not been paid. But the check had been cashed more expensive than she had written it.

“Someone had used what looked like a black magic marker and wrote down my amount and increased the price by $ 200, and somehow they cashed the check,” Forman said. “So I went to the bank, I talked to the manager and told him what was going on. And he said, well, it’s all done electronically now, so, when a human being could look at that check. and know it had been tampered with, a machine doesn’t know, so he just walked in. He said they knew who owned the account and the police were dealing with it.

In fact, Worthington Police have taken around 20 reports of mail theft so far this year, with the main targets being the blue letterboxes outside the Kroger and those outside the Worthington Post Office.

Meanwhile, the Columbus Police Division has collected more than 400 reports this year, some from large blue mailboxes.

Both agencies referred to the United States Postal Inspector for questions about the investigations. 10TV requested more information but instead received this response:

“I cannot speak to ongoing investigations as it could jeopardize those investigations. We encourage customers to report any suspicious or illegal activity to the US Postal Inspection Service by calling 1 (877) 876-2455.”

Of course, mail theft isn’t new, but technology is now making it a bit easier, bank officials say.

“Unfortunately, check fraud has been with us probably for as long as we have checks, and we’ve certainly seen fraudsters of all types throughout the pandemic really taking advantage of Ohioans,” said Mike Adelman, President and CEO. from the Ohio branch. League of Bankers.

But Adelman says there has been an increase in theft and fraud during the pandemic. Thieves can steal checks straight from mailboxes, forge and forge them, then deposit them at ATMs or via cell phone without ever having to see a cashier face to face.

This is why banks implementing intensive fraud detection systems are so important.

“Banks are making extraordinary efforts to protect and protect accounts receivable, as our latest deposit account fraud investigation shows, which shows banks have stopped $ 9 out of $ 10 of attempted fraud on accounts receivable. deposit in 2018, ”said Sarah Grano, spokesperson for US bankers. Association. “We have seen criminals revert to check fraud and luckily banks are well equipped to catch it thanks to sophisticated fraud prevention systems and the constant vigilance of dedicated employees.”

But, even with face-to-face contact, thieves still find ways to profit from mail theft.

“It’s just too easy today, given the printing technology that a lot of us have in our own homes, where we could create some sort of documentation to maybe look like I’m working for one. particular company and have the ability to cash a check on that company name, ”Adelman said.

The best advice from government officials is to do as much online banking and pay bills as possible, and deposit a check directly at a post office to mail it.

This is something Forman certainly took to heart. She has changed some of her habits, but is still waiting to get her money back from that August robbery. He was told it should happen in October.

In the meantime, she hopes to spread the word about the risk of mail theft.

“It was a surprise to me to hear that checks that I always thought were pretty safe, especially when deposited in a US PO box, are no longer secure,” she said.

The ABA also provided 10TV with data and advice for consumers:

ABA’s most recent check fraud data:

  • U.S. Banks Prevented $ 22.3 Billion in Deposit Account Fraud Attempts in 2018
  • While total deposit account fraud attempts reached $ 25.1 billion in 2018, bank prevention measures halted nearly $ 9 in every $ 10 of attempted fraud.
  • According to the report, check fraud accounted for 47%, or $ 1.3 billion, of the industry’s deposit account fraud losses, followed closely by debit card fraud losses at 44%, or $ 1.2 billion. The remaining 9%, or $ 265 million, of losses was attributed to electronic banking transactions, including bill payments, P2P transfers, wire transfers and ACH transactions.
  • Total check fraud attempts increased to $ 15.1 billion and accounted for 60% of deposit account fraud attempts.
  • Report any suspected fraud to your bank immediately.
  • Use online banking to protect yourself. Regularly monitor your financial accounts for fraudulent transactions. Sign up for your bank’s SMS or email alerts for certain types of transactions, such as online purchases or transactions over $ 500. Also, consider making and receiving payments electronically through online bill payment and other options.
  • Beware of phishing scams. Never give out personal financial information in an email or over the phone unless you initiated the contact.
  • Monitor your credit report. Order a free copy of your credit report every four months from one of the three credit reporting agencies at annualcreditreport.com.

ABA consumer advice related to check scams and joint ABA infographic with the FTC.

Counterfeit checks remain one of the most common instruments used to commit fraud against consumers. Before you deposit a unexpected check or wire funds to an unknown recipient, here’s what you need to know:

How do fake check scams work?

There are many variations of the scam. It usually starts with someone offering to:

  • Buy something that you have listed for sale
  • Pay you to work from home
  • Give you an “advance” on a raffle where you won
  • Give you the first installment of the millions you will receive for agreeing to transfer money in a foreign country to your bank account for safekeeping

Scammers give you a check or money order for more than the amount owed to you and ask you to return the excess funds to them before they receive your lump sum payment. After you send the money, you find out that the check or money order is forged.

Tips for avoiding fake check scams:

  • Even if the check is “cashed”, you may not be in good standing. Federal law requires banks to make deposited funds available quickly, but just because you can withdraw the money doesn’t mean the check is good, even if it is a cashier’s check. or a warrant. If you have questions about whether the check is good or not, talk to your banker. Be sure to explain the source of the check, the reasons it was sent to you, and if you are being asked to wire money.
  • Don’t be fooled by the appearance of the check. Scammers use sophisticated technology to create counterfeit checks that mirror the appearance of legitimate checks. Some are counterfeit money orders, some are fake cashier’s checks, and some appear to be from legitimate business accounts. The companies whose names appear may be real, but someone has forged the checks without their knowledge.
  • Never “pay to play”. There is no legitimate reason for someone giving you money to ask you to wire money or send you more than the correct amount – this is a red flag that they this is a scam. If a stranger wants to pay you something, demand a cashier’s check for the exact amount, preferably from a local bank or local branch.
  • Do not respond to online solicitations for “easy money”. Social media scams like card cracking can offer “quick ways to make some extra money,” but keep in mind that easy money is rarely legal money.
  • Verify the requester before transferring or issuing a check. It’s important to know who you’re sending money to before you send it. Just because someone contacted you doesn’t mean it’s a trusted source.
  • Report any suspected fraud to your bank immediately. Bank staff are experts in spotting fraudulent checks. If you think someone is trying to withdraw a fake check, don’t deposit it, report it. Contact your bank and report it to the Federal Trade Commission or the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker.

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