The U.S. Postal Service is warning citizens to be cautious when mailing checks due to a recent surge in mail-related crime. As per reports, 305 USPS mail carriers have been robbed in the first half of FY23, exhibiting a decline from 412 thefts last year.
The USPS’s thefts primarily involve its flagship blue collection boxes, where instances of theft have led to the loss of over 900 checks in Wisconsin alone. Postal employees have been threatened, and as a result, many employees feel unsafe and victims of organized crime.
To curb this menace, the Postal Service has taken measures such as installing over 12,000 additional high-security collection boxes across the country and replacing the electronic locks of Arrow and Modified Arrow Keys to reduce the likelihood of robberies.
According to Postmaster General and CEO Louis DeJoy, “The men and women of the Postal Service walk our nation’s streets each day to fulfill our mission of delivering mail and packages to the American people. They deserve to work in a safe environment, free from targeting by criminals attempting to access the public’s mail.”
The USPS is determined to provide a secure mailing experience for Americans, highlighting the importance of maintaining heightened awareness during the holiday season and beyond.
Check Fraud and How to Prevent It
Check fraud is one of the most common types of fraud, with check washing being a common technique. In this scenario, criminals steal checks from the mail and modify them, altering the name of the payee and the amount. In some cases, they use chemicals to erase the original payee’s name from the check.
It’s important to note that stealing mail is a federal offense and can lead to serious consequences like up to five years of prison time. Altering checks, on the other hand, can be charged as a felony in some states depending on the amount.
Postal Inspectors recover over $1 billion in counterfeit checks and money orders every year. Banks reported approximately 680,000 incidents of check fraud last year to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), compared to 350,000 in 2021. Additionally, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service received nearly 300,000 complaints of mail theft in 2021, which is more than double compared to the previous year.
Although checks are still being used, their usage has decreased over the past few decades as many people have switched to electronic payments through debit or credit cards or money transfers. According to the Federal Reserve, Americans wrote approximately 3.4 billion checks in 2022, down from almost 19 billion in 1990.
To further protect yourself from check fraud, experts suggest going directly to the post office rather than leaving your checks in a mailbox. By doing so, you can be sure that your checks are properly handled and not prone to theft.
How to Protect Yourself Against Mail Fraud
With the increase of mail fraud cases, it’s important to take precautions when sending and receiving mail. Caitlin Driscoll of the Better Business Bureau recommends using a secure mail drop, such as inside a post office, instead of unsecured public-facing mailboxes. Todd Robertson with Argo Data, a financial data provider, also suggests dropping off checks inside a post office instead of leaving them in residential mailboxes.
Here are additional tips from the USPS to protect yourself against mail fraud:
Check Your Mailbox Daily
Don’t leave incoming or outgoing mail sitting in your mailbox. Remove your mail daily to significantly reduce the risk of being victimized.
Sign Up for Informed Delivery
You can sign up for Informed Delivery to receive daily digest emails that preview your mail and packages scheduled to arrive soon.
Get Involved in Your Neighborhood
Join your neighborhood watch or local social media groups to spread awareness and share information about mail fraud in your area.
Protect yourself against mail fraud by following these simple steps and ensuring your mail stays secure.