If You Notice This on a Mailbox, Don't Use It, Experts Warn
Learn this sign of trouble to avoid becoming the victim of mail theft.
Most of us have no choice but to put our faith in the security of mailboxes, whether we're sending off checks to pay our bills, sending birthday cards filled with cash, or mailing off important documents with heaps of our personal information. But public mailboxes are a gold mine for thieves, and mail theft is more common than you may realize. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) said it received nearly 300,000 complaints about mail theft in just the last year. Read on to find out what you should be looking out for so you can avoid having your mail stolen.
If you notice sticky substances on a mailbox, don't use it.
When it comes to using curbside blue USPS mailboxes, we generally use whatever's closest to us. But USPS says you shouldn't do this if you notice suspicious substances on the mailbox, like glue or other sticky residue, per ABC-affiliate WCVB 5. Police in Norwood, Massachusetts, told the news outlet that they have seen this as part of a mail fishing scam several times in the past month, where thieves will fish mail out of public mailboxes with items such as bottles and mousetraps wrapped on a string and covered in sticky substances in hopes of catching checks and mail with personal information.
"They throw it into the mailbox, and they literally fish around and then they pull out the mail, and then they look for envelopes that contain checks," Norwood Police Chief Williams Brooks told WCVB.
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Mail fishing could end up costing you thousands.
Norwood resident Carol Clough told WCVB that she had been a victim of mail fishing, which resulted in her entire bank account getting emptied out. "Someone had taken one of my checks out of [the box], made it out to a different name, and they changed the amount to $20,000," she said, adding that she was fortunately able to get her money back. Others have not been so lucky, according to the news outlet.
Ohioan Marcey Goulder Forman paid a bill by check through a Worthington, Ohio, mailbox in August, but received a notice a month later that her bill had not been paid even though the check had been cashed for $200 more than she had written it for, according to CBS-affiliate WBNS-TV. "This was a surprise to me to hear that checks that I always thought were pretty safe, especially when dropped in a United States post office box, are no longer safe," Forman said. She is still waiting to recover the money she lost.
This type of scam has increased amid the pandemic.
Mike Adelman, president and CEO of the Ohio Bankers League, told WBNS-TV that there has been a significant increase in theft and fraud during the pandemic, especially in relation to mail theft. The USPIS reported that the amount of mail theft complaints had increased by 161 percent from March 2020 to Feb. 2021 compared to the same timeframe just a year prior.
"Unfortunately, check fraud has been with us for probably as long as we've had checks, and we've definitely seen throughout the pandemic fraudsters of all types are really taking advantage," Adelman told WBNS-TV. He added that it's now easier for thieves to steal checks out of mailboxes, tamper with and forge them, and then deposit them through ATMs or using mobile phone apps without ever having to come face to face with an actual bank teller.
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USPS says there are other ways you can protect yourself from mail theft.
Besides looking out for sticky substances on public mailboxes, USPS has other tips you can utilize to protect yourself from mail theft. According to the postal agency, you should only deposit mail in blue collection boxes right before the last collection of the day, hand your mail to a letter carrier or mail it inside the post office, and use a gel or felt tip pen instead of a ballpoint pin to write out checks.
Brooks also said that some communities have even replaced the type of USPS mailboxes they use to protect against mail fishing, swapping out the traditional blue dropbox with a new mailbox that has a single slot and metal teeth to prevent mail from being fished back out. "The ones with the slit are very, very effective at thwarting this sort of thing," Brooks confirmed to WCVB.