Stolen checks from mail theft ‘will only get worse’

Criminals stealing checks from mail sent though local post offices, and across the country, are building a sophisticated enterprise of easy cash, fraud and identity theft.

The amount of checks stolen from a Dunwoody Post office since last summer total nearly $500,000 and there are no significant leads on the cases, according to police.

U.S. Postal Service authorities are mainly handling the investigation. Dunwoody police are also involved, said police Public Information Officer Sgt. Michael Cheek.

Credit: David Maimon

Credit: David Maimon

Most checks are stolen from blue mailboxes located outside the post office on Dunwoody Village Parkway. Some have also been stolen from the maildrop inside the post office, Cheek added.

Thieves are “washing” the checks by erasing the penned ink in the payable spaces and the dollar amount. The check can then be forged and cashed, police say.

But Georgia State University Criminology Professor David Maimon added that there are multiple layers to what culprits can do with stolen checks. He said that in many cases separate parties steal the checks, wash them and cash or sell the checks.

Maimon and his students have been conducting research on stolen checks by watching criminal activity posted anonymously on the “dark web.” The professor said entire schemes are turning into organized crime of different entities depending on the state or metropolitan area.

The professor says the checks can be sold to another party after they are washed. Maimon said he recently saw a washed personal check offered for $250 and a business check for $650. Those prices increased from September when personal checks sold for $125 and business checks were $200, he said.

“We’ve witnessed drug addicts hired to sort through and wash (the checks) and when they are ready to go, they are delivered to mules who offer them for sale on (online) platforms,” he said.

Maimon discussed trends in the crime and darknet sales during the American Society of Criminology Conference in Atlanta in November, and says he has also shared findings with U.S. Post Office investigators.

He sent The Atlanta Journal-Constitution photos of Georgia residents’ stolen checks that were posted anonymously on the dark web.

Mortgage companies, churches, rental properties and insurance companies were some of the payable parties on stolen checks from such places as Stone Mountain and Senoia, Georgia.

Criminals are becoming more skilled and have partners inside banks and credit unions providing additional information that allow them to open fraudulent accounts and credit lines, Maimon said.

“It will only get worse,” he added. “We’re talking billions of dollars in checks. Millions of identities (stolen). Employer ID numbers. You don’t have to be tech savvy. You just have to have the right people involved.”

Credit: David Maimon

Credit: David Maimon

According to a 2021 report on mail theft from the Office of Inspector General, the Postal Inspection Service received 40,727 mail fraud complaints and opened 753 cases during a 12 month period from 2020-21. The Postal Inspection Service received 299,020 mail theft complaints and opened 1090 cases during the same period.

“When the Postal Inspection Service determines a mail fraud or mail theft complaint is within its jurisdiction and actionable, the complaint is assigned to an existing case, or a new case is opened to investigate,” the report states.

Frustration with prevention

Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch said she is “frustrated” that blue mailboxes remain outside the local post office on Dunwoody Village Parkway.

Deutsch contacted Sen. Raphael Warnock about the crimes in October. He then sent a letter to Chief Postmaster Gary Barksdale and Inspector General Tammy Whitcomb Hall asking questions.

Neither Warnock’s office or the U.S. Postal Service office of communications have provided any information on the investigation.

In many cases the crime starts with a key to the blue mailboxes. Across the U.S., mail carriers have been robbed of those keys, according to news reports and Frank Albergo, national president of the Postal Police Officers Association.

Albergo said postal police had protections against mail theft in place using data to target specific zip codes where the crime was most prevalent. The duties of postal police was changed in 2020 and postal investigators now handle mail theft crimes and protections, he said.

“There are postal police in Atlanta and they are banned basically from protecting mail and protecting letter carriers,” Albergo said. “The law restricts us to (protecting) real property such as postal facilities.”

He said he believes the increase in mail theft is the result.

Dunwoody police and other local departments contacted by the AJC said there were no reports of mail carriers being robbed.

Duluth police have had frequent reports of stolen checks from the local post office in recent years but only one incident in which a mail carrier was robbed, said police spokesman Ted Sadowski.

“They stole a key and a scanner for packages,” he said.

That incident occurred last year. All of the crimes were passed on to U.S. Post Office investigators.

“A lot of times we never really hear how it’s resolved,” Sadowski said.