USPS Makes 3 Big Recommendations as Mail Crime Spikes

This advice could help save you from the agony of a check washing scheme.

Despite how much we rely on it, it can be easy to take the security of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for granted. After all, it's often that we send and receive important documents loaded with sensitive information and precious packages. But the unfortunate reality is that plenty of crooks try to exploit the service—especially where sending money is involved. And now, the USPS has released some recommendations on how to avoid check fraud as mail crime spikes. Read on to see what you can do to keep you and your finances safe.

RELATED: 5 Biggest Mail Scams Happening Right Now—and How to Stay Safe.

There's been an alarming jump in check fraud committed via mail recently.

San Francisco postal worker in mask delivering mail during stay-at-home order.
iStock

While "porch pirates" might feel like a growing problem, package theft isn't the only type of crime affecting mail and parcel service. Check fraud has also been on the rise in recent years as crooks continue to exploit the paper payments making their way through the USPS.

According to data from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), banks reported about 680,000 check fraud cases in 2022, marking a nearly two-fold increase from 350,000 reports in 2021, per Fortune. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) also said that the 300,000 complaints it received for mail theft in 2021 had doubled the previous year's numbers.

Ironically, the spike in this type of fraud is inverse to how often checks are actually cut these days. "Despite the declining use of checks in the United States, criminals have been increasingly targeting the U.S. Mail since the COVID-19 pandemic to commit check fraud," FinCEN wrote in an alert on Feb. 27.

RELATED: USPS Just Issued a New Warning About Mailing Cash.

Some USPS customers have recently reported a wave of check fraud crime.

A close up of a USPS mailbox
hapabapa/iStock

Unfortunately, recent events show that this type of mail crime remains a serious issue. Residents in Newton, Massachusetts, recently reported mail theft from USPS Blue Boxes used for dropping off outgoing letters, local Boston ABC affiliate WCVB reports.

Some also said that handwritten checks they had dropped into the receptacle had been intercepted and used in a "check washing" operation—including one woman whose amount was rewritten to $10,000.

"It was shocking that a stranger with my check could cash the check for $10,000. If I were to go to Citizens Bank to cash a check for $10,000, they'd subject me to quite an interview," Newton resident Deborah Gordon told WCVB. "So it's amazing to me that this fraud happens and that it happens frequently."

RELATED: See a Sticker on Your Mailbox? Don't Touch It, USPS Says.

The Postal Service made a few recommendations on how to avoid any problems when mailing checks.

USPS United States Post Office location at L'Enfant Plaza underground shops in southwest DC
Shutterstock

While such types of mail theft remain an issue, the USPS has put out a set of recommendations to customers in order to help cut down on the likelihood they'll become a victim.

The agency suggests that anyone depositing outgoing mail in a blue collection box should do so before the last pickup time of the day or as close to the scheduled pickup as possible. Otherwise, dropping the mail off inside your local post office is best.

The USPS also warns it's best not to leave any incoming letters in your mailbox overnight where they could be swiped. And if you're planning on being out of town for a while, arrange to have your mail held at your local post office or have a friend or neighbor pick it up each day and hold on to it until you return.

RELATED: USPS Is Installing New "Safe" Mailboxes Amid Rising Mail Theft.

Experts say there are a few other ways to protect your checks from fraud.

writing check
DW labs Incorporated / Shutterstock

In addition to being timely with your mail pickup and drop-off, there are a few other ways to help secure paper checks. According to Ryan Moody, senior vice president of payments product management at Vericast, this includes using a gel pen to fill them out, as it can make them harder to wash.

"When those chemicals get applied to a check that has that ink absorbed into the paper, those chemicals don't stand much of a chance against that, so it's very easy to see that check has been modified," he told Federal News Network in a Sept. 4 interview.

But if you ever experience a problem with your post, it's still best to report it to the authorities. "U.S. Mail should arrive unopened, unread, and intact. When it doesn't, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of the United States Postal Service, aggressively investigates," the USPIS said in a statement to WCVB.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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