Scammers stealing checks from Connecticut mailboxes emptied bank accounts – Hartford Courant

Thieves using a line attached to rodent glue traps retrieved checks from US mail collection boxes in several Connecticut towns, a lucrative catch used to drain victims’ bank accounts.

Avon Police posted signs on drop boxes earlier this month warning people to avoid sending cash and checks and mailing items inside the post office rather than using outer boxes.

“Mailbox fishing” has been reported across the country. Teams using rodent traps and other sticky devices attached to lines carry envelopes, then pick checks and discard the rest. Using chemicals to remove the ink, they “wash” the checks, altering names and amounts, authorities say.

West Hartford Captain Eric Rocheleau said police have received multiple complaints from residents who reported stolen and altered checks. Detectives were investigating a case in which thieves used custom-made tools to remove mail from a post office box, Rocheleau said.

A longtime Farmington Valley resident who wished to remain anonymous said on Monday that his elderly parents’ bank account was nearly wiped out recently after thieves stole two checks from a drive-in collection box off Highway 44 in Avon. The crooks changed the amount of a check from $110 to $8,000 and cashed it, the man said.

The criminals then photoshopped the checks and created blank checks with the same account number and victim name – “so it basically looked like a blank check you would have in your checkbook,” the man said.

“Then they started writing checks, and they forged my signature which was based on the signature of the two checks they stole,” he said.

The man says he learned on Monday that the money was insured and will be replaced.

The United States Postal Inspection Service is investigating the thefts, agency spokeswoman Emily Spera said.

“Every day, the U.S. Postal Service safely and efficiently delivers millions of checks, money orders, credit cards and merchandise,” Spera said. “Unfortunately, these items also attract thieves. That’s why postal inspectors across the country are hard at work protecting our customers’ mail.

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Avon police are working with federal authorities to investigate a steady stream of such robberies, which began last summer, police spokesman Lt. John Schmalberger said. Postal authorities retrofitted the larger drop box outside the main post office to prevent fishing, but the smaller box, which reads “Express,” was left unmodified, Schmalberger said.

Postal Service spokeswoman Amy Gibbs said Tuesday that all Connecticut collection boxes are being modified to enhance security.

Schmalberger said check stealing crews drive along major arteries like Route 44 and get their jobs done quickly. On March 15, police in Scarsdale, New York, found stolen mail and sticky rat traps inside a wrecked and abandoned car, according to the Scarsdale Inquirer newspaper.

In Philadelphia, check thieves used keys to open collection boxes and take away all the contents, the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper reported. Criminals steal keys from postmen or pay carriers thousands of dollars for so-called “arrow keys.” A 2020 report by the U.S. Postal Service’s Inspector General found lax key oversight.

“The Postal Service’s management controls on the arrow keys were ineffective,” the report said. “Specifically, the number of arrow keys in circulation is unknown, and local units did not adequately report lost, stolen, or broken keys or maintain an inventory of keys. postal has not limited the number of replacement arrow keys that can be ordered.Ineffective controls on arrow keys increase the risk of these items being lost or stolen and undetected.

Spera offered tips to prevent mail theft:

  • Deliver outgoing mail to your postman or mail it inside the post office or in a secure receptacle at your facility.
  • Never send cash or coins by post. Use checks or money orders. Ask your bank for “secure” checks that are harder to alter.
  • If you see a suspicious substance, such as glue or other sticky product on a mailbox or mail receptacle, notify the postal inspectors. Submit your complaints to uspis.gov, or by calling 877-876-2455. By analyzing information from the complaint, inspectors can determine if the incident is part of a larger mail theft problem in the neighborhood, and customer feedback can help inspectors catch thieves.

Jesse Leavenworth can be reached at [email protected]

Shawanda H. Saldana