25 Investigates: Mail theft is on the rise nationally; so are check washing scams

NATICK, Mass. — With inflation spiking, scammers are working overtime to steal your hard-earned money.

The latest fraud scheme involves stealing checks from mailboxes.

25 Investigates was contacted by a Natick man whose checking account was wiped out in March through a check washing scam. Our team began looking at how checks are swiped from the postal service and how consumers can better protect themselves.

Tom Slamin has spent years restoring his 1969 Firebird convertible. It’s not easy work, he says. But it’s nothing like the time and work it’s taken to restore his checking account.

“I never expected this to happen. I thought checks are safe,” Slamin told 25 Investigates.

He says he mailed a $321 check to his oil company in March for a boiler cleaning. The oil company never got it but the check was cashed at a JP Morgan Chase Bank in Louisiana. Slamin showed us a photcopy of the cashed check.

“Sure enough that same check that went to the oil company, somebody had stolen it, rewritten the check completely and took out $9834,” he said “They even signed my wife’s name and she never signs it. They spelled her name wrong.”

Someone using the name Royal Ridgley cleaned Tom and his wife out.

25 Investigates requested police reports from Natick, Sandwich, Plymouth, Wakefield, Wayland, Framingham, Swampscott and found numerous instances of checks being stolen from collection boxes right outside post offices.

Wakefield police chief Steven Skory said his department hasn’t had any recent cases. But in the two previous years several checks were reported missing after being dropped in bins outside the post office on Main Street.

“The crooks will take an object such as a water bottle. They’ll put double sided tape around it or glue and tie a string to it. They drop the item into the mailbox, envelopes would stick to that item and they fish it back out,” he explained. “Whoever is doing it uses some type of chemical to wash the name of the check recipients and to change the dollar amount written on the check.”

Some of the stolen checks were cashed in New York and Boston, he said.

Chief Skory said the problem in Wakefield stopped after the postal service replaced all the collection bins in town. The new ones have feeders and are a lot harder to get into.

25 Investigates found a marketplace for stolen checks from the mail on the messaging app Telegram.

“Because of advance in things like printing technology, it’s almost impossible for your average consumer to spot a fake check and in many cases even trained bank tellers can’t tell,” said John Breyault with the National Consumers League, an advocacy group representing consumers on marketplace and workplace issues. PLEASE HYPERLINK: https://nclnet.org/

There are ways consumer can protect themselves:

  • Use black gel ink when writing checks. It’s hard to wash off
  • Note collection times on blue boxes. Don’t let checks sit overnight
  • Use an electronic or bill pay system for trusted payees
  • Use the letter slots inside your post office or hard your mail to a letter carrier

Slamin, the Natick man whose checking account was wiped out by scammers, told 25 Investigates he’s closer to repairing his finances.

Just weeks after our team got involved and began calling Slamin’s bank, Metrowest Community Credit Union, and JP Morgan Chase, the bank where his check was cashed, he says he finally got all his money back.

With his checking account restored, Slamin says he can finally get back to restoring his Firebird.

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