USPS Issues New Warning About Sending "Valuables" in the Mail
This comes after a woman spoke out about a missing package full of sentimental items.
With the holidays growing closer and closer, we're relying on the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) more often than we usually do. The mail itself may be more important, too, as we send off gifts, cards, and money to our loved ones. But following a report of a woman missing a package full of sentimental items, the agency is now reminding customers to be a little cautious. Read on for the USPS' warning about sending "valuables" in the mail.
The USPS just issued a new warning about mailing valuables.
A woman from Wellington, Florida, recently reached out to local NBC-affiliate WPTV about her struggles with shipping a sentimental package through the USPS. Resident Roberta Philmus told the outlet that after spending the past year knitting a blanket and pillow for her daughter who lives in Colorado, she sent it through the Postal Service on Sept. 18.
Now three months later, it has still not arrived at her daughter's, and has not been returned to Philmus either—with tracking information indicating that it has shifted through multiple post offices across the country.
The Wellington woman said she was told that there was an issue with her package's barcode, which the USPS has since confirmed to WPTV. But while Philmus' problem will hopefully soon be resolved, the agency's law enforcement branch is now advising customers to be cautious when mailing anything sentimental—especially as it gets closer to the holidays.
"Unfortunately, mail theft is an issue and during this time of year, criminals do know that valuables are in the mail, so that's what they're looking to target," Bryan Masmela, a Miami-based postal inspector for the USPS, told WPTV. "There are individuals that sometimes drive around looking for packages to be delivered to houses that are unattended."
The agency also recently released an alert about mailing cash.
Of course, some things are valuable without being sentimental. Back in July, the USPS released an alert about a cash-sending con in the cover story of its postal bulletin. According to the agency, criminals are using the "grandparent scam" to convince victims to make risky payments through the postal system. In this scheme, scammers gather personal information about an individual through their social media and then contact that person's grandparent.
"The scammer fabricates a story that the grandchild has been in an accident or is in some kind of legal or financial trouble and needs money right away," the USPS explained. "Then, they instruct the victim to mail cash to an address so they can take care of the grandchild."
New artificial intelligence technology is also helping to make this con even more convincing. But the moment you send cash through the mail, it's unlikely you'll ever get it back if it is stolen, because it's usually untraceable.
"The truth is no one has been in an accident or is in any legal trouble. Everyone is safe, except for your money. It's gone," the Postal Service cautioned.
You should be careful when mailing checks, too.
And it's not just cash. Back in February, the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an alert about a "nationwide surge in mail-theft related to check fraud schemes," reporting that the number of check fraud reports filed by banks had doubled from 2021 to 2022.
Criminals will steal checks out of the postal system for "check washing," which is a process wherein they chemically eliminate and alter the information on a check in order to fraudulently cash it.
But in a Sept. 2023 interview with the Federal News Network, Ryan Moody, senior vice president of payments product management at Vericast, revealed that how you write your checks could help keep them safe from this mail theft scheme. According to Moody, checks that are filled out with a gel pen are harder to "wash" due to the way the ink is absorbed—making them less valuable to criminals.
"When [check-washing] 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 the Federal News Network.
The Postal Service previously warned customers about collection mailboxes as well.
In late August, WPTV talked to two residents in Boynton Beach, Florida, who said they had thousands stolen from them after mailing checks at the town's post office. Lorna Swartz told the news outlet that a $50,000 check she had mailed to the IRS had been swiped from the facility, while Daniel Castiglione said he had $2,560 withdrawn out of his checking account after sending off a check for just $113.
"I started to think it through a little bit, put two and two together, and I said maybe somebody stole something from my check," Castiglione told WPTV.
In light of the thefts in Boynton Beach and the nationwide rise in check fraud, the USPS has warned customers to be more cautious about using the agency's blue collection mailboxes to mail checks. A spokesperson for the agency told WPTV that the best way people can protect themselves is by paying attention to when they are dropping their checks in these public receptacles.
"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."