USPS Issues New Warning About Mailing Checks After Victims Lose Thousands
The agency is giving customers new advice amid a surge in mail theft.
While it's easier than ever to make payments digitally, many of us still find ourselves using the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to send out money—whether that's mailing out a rent check, or getting square with the IRS. No matter the reason, there are countless checks being sent through the postal system every single day. You may want to exercise some caution before dropping one in the mailbox, however, as the USPS has issued a new warning about mailing checks. Read on to discover what the agency is advising customers to do now.
Victims have lost thousands after mailing checks.
Postal customers in Florida are dealing with a major problem that has emptied thousands from their bank accounts. Boynton Beach resident Daniel Castiglione is the latest victim to have money stolen after mailing a check at the town's post office, NBC-affiliate WPTV reported on Aug. 29.
"The check was for $113 and I see a withdraw out of my checking account in the amount of $2,560 and I said what is this," Castiglione told the news outlet. "I started to think it through a little bit, put two and two together, and I said maybe somebody stole something from my check."
Just a week prior, WPTV had spoken to another victim named Lorna Swartz, who said that a $50,000 check she had mailed to the IRS had also been swiped from the same facility.
"I called the police. I called the bank and indeed it was confirmed that it was a fraudulent check, that someone else other than the IRS had cashed it," she told the news outlet.
Officials say mail-related check fraud is on the rise.
This type of incident is hardly isolated to one community in Florida.
In Feb. 2023, the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) sent out an alert warning people across the country about a "nationwide surge in mail-theft related check fraud schemes." According to the agency, reports of check fraud filed by banks nearly doubled to 680,000 in 2022 from just 350,000 in 2021.
One of the most common tactics thieves use to commit this fraud is check washing.
"After stealing checks from the U.S. Mail, fraudsters and organized criminal groups may alter or 'wash' the checks, replacing the payee information with their own or fraudulent identities or with business accounts that the criminals control," FinCEN explained in its alert. "During check washing, these illicit actors also often increase the dollar amount on the check, sometimes by hundreds or thousands of dollars."
The USPS is now issuing a new warning about mailing checks.
In light of the recent incidents in Boynton Beach and a nationwide rise in check fraud, the Postal Service is urging customers to be more vigilant when mailing checks. In a statement to WPTV, a USPS spokesperson said that the most important way people can protect themselves is by paying attention to when they are mailing their checks out.
"We ask customers to observe the pickup times on collection boxes and if after the last scheduled pickup to come inside the building to deposit their mail if at a post office," the spokesperson said. "If at another location, observe the pickup time and do not deposit if after scheduled time."
But some think the agency should be doing more to prevent these crimes.
One of the reasons check fraud is surging right now is because "the mail system isn't as secure as everyone thought it was," Paul Benda, senior vice president of operational risk and cybersecurity at the American Bankers Association, told The New York Times. As a result, he said he advises people against mailing checks at all.
"We really recommend that if you can, use electronic payment methods," Benda said.
But some victims say this isn't a solution for everyone, and instead are calling on the USPS to do more to prevent mail theft and check-washing.
"You know, something should be done about this," Castiglione told WPTV. "You know, you have a lot of older people living in South Florida who I imagine still write checks manually. They're gonna get hit."