“Nothing good happens to a mailbox or a collection box after dark.” Maureen Marion, USPS
The challenges never end.
My coat weighs me down with its load of keys, and car fobs. Summer is a particular challenge with that bulk providing an unusual pants package.
But we always have to be on guard for vulnerabilities. Who will get into my home, my car, my locker…my bank account?
We all like to feel a sense of security as best we can in our everyday life. The mail has never been too much of a threat to that security. Now it is.
Today the challenge is, “check washing”. It’s rampant, especially of late. At least in my neck of the shore, Long Beach, NY.
Check washing is not new but it is re-surging in popularity, no doubt to the ease of washing and the need for drug money. Word of mouth among thieves carries it forward.
The thieves drop a “fishing” line with a weight at the end covered with a sticky substance and pull up whatever mail they can.
Checks are washed by using a solvent easily obtained. Some online notices of check washing refrain from naming the chemicals that are used for fear of educating potential thieves. But if I can find the info so easily, so can anybody. Here it is in Wikipedia:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Check_washing
And if you know what chemicals are involved you might detect the use of these in your home and suspect someone therein has a problem. Acetone, (nail polish remover) is the chemical of choice, as is isopropyl (rubbing alcohol) but there are many more, including bleach.
Names and amounts on checks are easily washed out and replaced by new names and amounts, thereby defrauding the writer of funds.
I recently alerted my Long Island neighbors and Facebook Friends about the scourge through a Facebook post, now I’m warning all of my blog followers across our beloved U.S.A…and beyond.
My sweetheart, Cheryl, told me about some of her fellow gym enthusiasts who were recent victims of check washing. One check was changed for hundreds more, the other $9,000, both to “new” recipients. One person mailed her check from the POST OFFICE and it too was washed. The investigation of this latter case led to the Garden City Post Office and the investigation continues.
A few weeks ago, just before Christmas, a pair of women were arrested RIGHT IN FRONT OF of nearby Atlantic Beach PO for fishing checks from the mail box:https://patch.com/new-york/longbeach/duo-caught-stolen-mail-outside-nassau-post-office-police
This Wed night, Jan 15th, two men were arrested after a chase and crashes for attempting to steal mail from a mailbox at Park Ave and Monroe Blvd:http://longisland.news12.com/story/41571249/2-men-accused-of-stealing-mail-in-long-beach
There have been other reports of street drop boxes being raided with envelopes strewn on the sidewalks nearby. This was posted on Facebook Jan 5th:
I spoke with one victim of the above mailbox raid. She told me she usually uses the post office but this time chose the street dropbox, yes…at Park and Pacific.
She later noticed in her online statement that a check for a storage payment of $180 was changed to $750.94. Yes, they even added the 94 cents to make it appear more legit.
A second check was, believe it or not, to the IRS for a prepayment of $1,100. The name of the recipient was changed from U.S. Government to another name, the amount stayed the same. The thieves were apparently satisfied with the $1,100. If this had gone undetected the IRS would have been without the payment calling for fees and penalties. But under the circumstances, I’m sure the IRS would have shown understanding and compassion.
This lady notified the Post Office AND the police. The officer said there were at least forty other victims. One wonders how many additional victims still don’t know their checks have been through the Long Beach “laundromat.” Check your statements!
This same lady told me about a man on her block who had a check washed for $9,000. He did report it to the Post Office but not the police. Too bad. If the police receive a report, it would increase their vigilance. His bank did cover the loss because he reported it to them in time.
I contacted my bank which said the depositor has 60 days from the time he receives his statement to notify them and be covered for the loss. But online I see some banks only protect for 30 days. It’s best to check your account online often to see if your checks are cashed for the amount intended. If not call the bank!
I contacted our Long Beach Postmaster to find out how bad the current situation is and was referred to Postal Service Media Relations. I spoke with Maureen Marion at MR and was told new “thin-lipped” collection boxes are being installed in selected areas to deter box theft. She advises patrons to place mail in the box just before pick up time. If the last pick up is at 5:00 pm don’t put it in at six. She said, “Nothing good happens to a mailbox or a collection box after dark.” I’m sure she’s right. In addition to fishing mail, I’m thinking of late nite teens tossing beer, or processed beer, into collection boxes.
I’ve found that these thin-lipped and toothed boxes are almost universal in NYC. In Long Beach…not so much. And we need them, obviously!
Re the thin-lipped slots, even they ain’t theft-proof:https://nypost.com/2019/11/23/i-was-a-victim-of-mailbox-fishing/
If you think sloppily changed checks won’t be cashed, think again. From the NY Post link above:
In the meantime, some local vigilante put his own warning sign on the Long Beach, Park and Pacific box:
Mail theft has been increasing in Nassau County within the last year. Here’s a report from last August:https://dailyvoice.com/new-york/nassau/police-fire/alert-issued-for-increase-in-stolen-mail-in-nassau-county/774396/
There are some defenses against check washing thieves.
Security checks with special paper and features are available but they are very expensive.
But you can also follow these tips:
Don’t leave checks in your home box where they can be accessed by thieves.
Don’t handwrite your name on the return address of the envelope, it assists in forgery. Use labels or at least print your name.
Most important: Use fraud-resistant pens.
“Normal” or common ballpoint pens are easily washed. But you can deter fraud by using gel pens in check writing. There are many to choose from but we’ve found the highly rated, Uni-Ball #207 pens to work very well. Below see “Cheryl” almost removed with minimal effort, extreme left, then with black, then blue Uni-ball pens:
These pens are as readily available to you as acetone or isopropyl are to thieves. You can buy ‘em by the batch at Costco (not all stores carry them but Costco online does) or at Amazon. We bought ours at Costco:
Many of you pay your bills online or by phone. I do both, but sometimes I’m concerned that the bank or credit card site I’m reaching is not really my site but some clever imposter phishing my user and password info. So, I prefer the phone…using the phone number on my account info.
Even if you do use computer/phone payment, many of you still send checks to grandkids or nieces and nephews for special occasions and the taxman. These are vulnerable. But if you get the gel pens rolling across your checks, you won’t have to dread…laundry days.