Mailbox Fishing

Although this really isn’t an online safety issue, we thought this information was important enough to include in this section of our website.

Important Update!
Since this article was first written, this fraud scheme has evolved. Once the post office started outfitting the blue mailboxes with anti-fishing deposit slots, the criminals have resorted to robbing mail carriers to steal their keys to these stand alone boxes. The postal service has not yet resolved this issue. Although it is rumored that they will be installing new electronic locks that will operate with fobs that can be disabled. See the tips below on how to better protect yourself.

What is happening?
In recent months, a crime trend that seemed to begin in the New York City area has found its way to Boston and surrounding communities. This criminal activity has been labeled “Mailbox Fishing”. This crime takes place at USPS mailboxes that have the pull-down drop door that we’ve all used for our entire lives. Criminals attach a rodent glue trap to a string and use that device to pull mail from the mailbox. They are looking for cash, gift cards and the checks you mailed to pay your bills. This is where the real danger lies.

The criminals take your check and erase or “wash” the payee line and in some cases the written and numeric dollar amounts. They do this leaving your valid signature intact in the hopes that it will fool your Bank. They then alter the check, raising the amount by thousands of dollars. The checks are then deposited through ATMs and mobile deposit where it might be less evident that the check has been altered. Since the check number and your signature are both valid, it makes it challenging to try to catch these 100% of the time.

What can you do to protect yourself?

  • Whenever possible, pay your bills online or sign up for automatic payments
  • Do not use a standard ball point pen. Use a Uni-ball Gel pen or an ultra fine Sharpy for writing checks. These inks permeate the check paper and make it almost impossible for the check to be “washed”.
  • If you need to mail a check, bring it to your post office and drop it off inside the facility
  • If you cannot get to a post office, make sure the mailbox you use has been modified as shown in the image on the right of this page
  • If you must mail a check from a non-modified mailbox, never uses the box after the final pick-up for the day. Most of these thefts take place at night usually between midnight and four AM.
  • Choose a mailbox on a busy street and mail your bills in the morning.