MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (FOX 5 DC) - You may want to think twice about how you send your holiday gift cards or money this year after multiple Montgomery County residents claim their checks were stolen from those blue USPS mailboxes.
Many also claim their checks were altered so that thieves could try to withdrawal even more cash than the checks’ original amount.
"My initial reaction was never to use the mailboxes -- that they are not secure. The second reaction I had was I’m not sure that people are addressing this situation aggressively," said David Wood of Silver Spring.
Wood showed FOX 5 what he says is the image of a fraudulent check someone tried to cash from his account for nearly $2,000.
Wood told FOX 5 a little over two weeks ago, he went to pay a $35 bill by check and dropped off the payment in one of those blue USPS curbside mailboxes located on Spring Street near Georgia Avenue.
Not long after, Wood said his bank noted a check had been deposited for withdrawal, but this was for an amount Wood did not authorize.
When the Silver Spring resident clicked on the online check image, Wood told FOX 5 he found the same numbered check he had dropped off at the curbside mailbox with the original information apparently rubbed out or altered.
The image now showed a withdrawal of $1,900 instead of $35 – and appeared to be made out to an unknown person named "Sarayah M. Hardy" for "Home Improvements." The check still showed his signature.
Another woman said this happened at a Woodmore Shopping Center mailbox with someone trying to withdraw $7,500 from a $75 dollar check.
Stephen Bokat, who spent a long time as council for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told FOX 5 this happened to him with a USPS mailbox just outside his Chevy Chase home.
"We put a check to Montgomery County to pay our property tax on Saturday morning and on the following Tuesday, I received a report from my bank that a check had been presented for 5-times the amount of check I wrote and same check number," said Bokat. He said his incident happened in mid-September.
"I think it’s ridiculous we have people all over the area mailing checks that are being stolen and yet there’s been nothing said," Bokat.
Also in September, Montgomery County Police confirmed they and the USPS Postal Inspector were investigating multiple mail theft incidents in Bethesda and Glenn Echo. Police even posted surveillance video and an image connected to a suspect who reportedly opened a Kensington mailbox at 3:57 a.m. on Sept. 5.
Officials are looking into whether that specific investigation has been closed yet.
Wood told FOX 5 he filed a report with USPS and Montgomery County Police. He told his community in a Nextdoor post of his experience and that according to a county investigator, these incidents apparently have something to do with mail carriers getting robbed at gunpoint.
"He explained that there was a person or persons who are out there with master keys to the curbside mailboxes and these people should not have these keys. And periodically, these guys or – will get into a mailbox," said Wood.
Neither county police nor the USPS Postal Inspector’s Office would confirm those details but did tell FOX 5 they are seriously investigating the incidents as these are federal offenses.
On Nov. 16, Rodney Jefferson, 29, of Hyattsville was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in federal prison for conspiring with a DC 38-year-old to rob postal workers and steal at least 1,000 checks from collection boxes. Investigators say the stolen checks amounted to more than $1.5 million.
"On February 27, 2019, investigators executed a search warrant at Jefferson’s residence and found several keys used to open postal collection boxes, stolen checks from different states, deposit receipts and credit cards in other individuals’ names, and a magnetic stripe reader used for encoding credit cards. The issuers of the stolen checks reported to investigators that they deposited the checks into the U.S. Postal Service collection boxes, but the checks were never delivered," reads a press release for the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office.
The US Postal Inspection Service spokesperson said in a statement:
The US Postal Inspection Service is investigating this incident along with Montgomery County Police. Due to the ongoing nature of the investigation we cannot provide additional details at this time. The safety of U.S. mail is a priority to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. If you suspect you are a victim of mail theft, please report it to local police and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 1-877-876-2455, or online at USPIS.gov. If you notice suspicious activity at a blue collection box, call local police and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 1-877-876-2455.
Some safeguards include not mailing checks or cash, taking your mail to the post office or waiting until closer to mailbox pick-up to drop off your mail. However, one of the mail fraud complainants FOX 5 spoke to said she did wait closer to pick-up and still had her check stolen.
Requiring a signature is another safety measure. Some mail carriers stopped this signature-requirement measure as a COVID-19 pandemic precaution, but UPS and FedEx have since reinstated signature-required deliveries.