Postal service unsure how thieves are stealing checks, won’t share data

USPS tells customers not to use outdoor mailboxes; police in local cities tracking dozens of cases

Check thefts from U.S. Postal Service mailboxes, like the repeated incidents in Kettering, Oakwood and Beavercreek over the past year, may be on the rise nationally, data shows.

Postal investigators said they are working with police in those local cities. Many of the check fraud cases this year involve thefts at post office outdoor drop boxes not surveilled by cameras, according to authorities.

At least $38,000 has been stolen in 40 reported local cases this year — only one in Beavercreek — but USPS officials are not sure how thieves are gaining access to the boxes.

“We don’t have that answer,” postal Inspector Ed Trejo said.

USPS officials recommend using drop boxes inside post offices. They declined to say what measures are being taken to deter the crimes, or provide the amounts of checks stolen annually.

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Researchers say the thefts help fuel millions of dollars in cyber-crimes. Checks stolen from mailboxes and sold online in October 2021 had a face value of $11.6 million, up $1.4 million from a month earlier, a research group found.

A study of chat room channels known for selling fraudulent documents found an average of 1,325 stolen checks being sold weekly last October, more than double the same period in previous months, according to Georgia State University’s Evidence Based Cybersecurity Research Group.

In Kettering earlier this year, someone “dropped more than one check in the mailbox. Both were stolen. Both were altered and this woman is out $12,000,” police Det. Vince Mason said.

Mason said Kettering police have fielded 11 reports this year from businesses and individuals of mailed checks stolen from drop boxes at the Stroop Road and Forrer Boulevard post offices.

Many were later altered to higher values that included $5,000, $12,800 and $20,000, he said.

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Oakwood has recorded 28 USPS drop box thefts since late December with checks being the only items reported stolen, according to police.

No amounts were disclosed, as the investigation is ongoing, Oakwood police said.

One mailbox check theft was reported to Beavercreek police this year, Capt. Shawn Sumner said. A person said they wrote a check for less than $1,000 and mailed it at the post office in January.

The check was later altered for more than $ 1,000 when it was cashed, Sumner said. No suspects have been identified in any of the cases involving those three cities this year, officials said.

The latest local rash of mailbox thefts follows a string of similar crimes last year in Kettering that have led to four indictments. Michael E. George, of Cincinnati, Craig A. Ross, of Dayton, and Brittany L. Kinder and Daniel L. Yates, both of Newport, Ky., all face charges, according to Montgomery County Common Pleas Court records.

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They are suspected of stealing and passing about 30 checks totaling around $100,000 last year, Mason said.

George, 64, and Ross, 29, are charged with forgery and theft, while Kinder, 30, and Yates, 26, face grand theft and forgery charges, court records show.

The U.S. Postal Service did not release requested totals for stolen or passed checks nationwide for the past two years. However, in 2019 there were 2,881 reports of people illegally pulling mail out of collection boxes, NBC reported, citing postal inspection service data obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Georgia State research group founder said in a published article that the checks stolen from mailboxes and sold on the internet in October 2021 may have been bought for much more than the $11.6 million they originally represented.

“These values likely represent a small share of the actual amount of money being stolen from victims because criminals often rewrite the checks for much higher amounts,” David Maimon wrote in a January edition of The Conversation.

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The group’s study of chat room channels known for selling fraudulent documents found an average of 1,325 stolen checks being sold weekly in October 2021, up from 634 per week in September and 409 in August.

That same group’s one-week pilot study in October 2020 found 158 stolen checks.


USPS RECOMMENDATIONS

• Drop off mail at slots inside post office, many of which have 24-hour lobby access. Customers can find lobby hours online at https://tools.usps.com/find-location.

• Do not mail cash.

• Mailbox theft victims can report their case via phone 24 hours a day at 877-876-2455, or visit the postal inspection service’s website, www.uspis.gov.

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