Mail is being targeted in check-washing scams in many communities in Massachusetts.
Police in many local communities have issued warnings about the practice, urging residents to drop their mail off inside a post office rather than an outside box.
Most recently, Weston police issued a warning after at least a dozen reports of stolen checks fraudulently cashed that were taken from a mailbox there.
Kurt Davis of Roxbury sent a birthday card to Texas with a $50 check in it last fall. A couple of weeks later he realized it had never arrived.
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“I went to the Citizens bank branch and asked to see if that check had cleared,” Davis said. “ And they said it had cleared already and they turn, they turn the monitor around and showed it to me. And it was, it had been forged. Like, they had taken her name out and put in another name. And the amount instead of $50 was $15,822.
Almost $16,000 disappeared from his account in a check-washing scam. Davis had dropped the card at a Boston mailbox. Someone stole it, altered the check and deposited it at an ATM in Braintree on November 10, taking his money.
He filed a claim with Citizens Bank and the U.S. Postal Service and filed a police report.
In December, Citizens sent him a letter saying after a review of his claim they determined that the check in question “does not appear to have been altered."
More on check washing and mail theft
“And I wrote back, yes, it certainly was altered,” said Davis. “And I put notes on it and showed and circled in red where you could still see the remnants of the thing that I had originally written, you know, because you could see it behind the stuff that was that had been replaced.”
In January, Citizens Bank informed him they had reached out to the bank where the check was deposited and said they would contact him once their investigation was complete.
Davis said when he couldn’t get any updates on the status of his claim after nine weeks, so he contacted NBC10 Boston Responds for help.
“I'm tired of waiting,” said Davis. “I'm disappointed in the bank. I've been a customer for more than 30 years, and I feel like again, I feel like it's their responsibility...I feel like that they should, in good faith, put the money back into my account and then recover the money for themselves.”
“It shouldn't be incumbent on me who was a victim of this crime, to have to be a victim of waiting for the money to be replaced in my account. I mean, $15,000, I could use that money in my account.”
We contacted Citizens Bank on his behalf and within a week the money was back in his account.
Citizens didn’t answer our questions about how long these investigations typically take, but told us:
"The safety and security of our customers’ accounts are of the utmost importance to us, and we are sorry to hear that one of our customers was potentially the victim of check washing fraud. While we can’t comment on a specific customer, as with any case of alleged check washing fraud, we work with all parties involved to investigate and pursue recovery."
The American Banker’s Association told NBC10 Boston that banks actually “prevent about 90% of deposit account fraud attempts each year” and that bank customers are “generally protected against losses due to unauthorized transactions if they are reported in a timely fashion.”
The ABA recommends writing checks with pens that contain indelible black ink, following up to make sure your checks were received, regularly reviewing your bank statements for errors, and reporting any suspected fraud immediately.
If you still receive paid checks back from the bank, shred them.
The United States Postal Inspection Service tells us:
"The crime of mail theft is not a new crime, and Postal Inspectors have been investigating this crime for many years with successful results. In Fiscal Year 2021, Postal Inspectors had 1,511 arrests for mail theft, and successfully worked with local, state, and federal authorities to obtain convictions of 1,263 persons for this crime. Like all individuals and entities, the U.S. Postal Service is not immune to crime and the Postal Inspection Service is sparing no resource to bring these criminals to justice.
"Some of the tools the Inspection Service uses to address the crime of mail theft include investigative, technological and prevention activities; and in other instances, it partners with varying agencies to thwart this crime. The Postal Inspection Service investigates these crimes to bring perpetrators to justice, while working with the Postal Service to develop proprietary enhancements to mailboxes to secure the U.S. Mail."
They recommend consumers drop off mail in blue collection boxes before the last scheduled pick-up time or directly at the post office and recommend never leaving mail in your mailbox overnight.
If you’re going to be out of town, have your mail held at your Post Office or have it picked up by a trusted friend or family member.
Davis is taking his mail into the post office these days.
“This could happen to somebody else,” said Davis. “I was only lucky and fortunate that I was able to withstand, you know, the strain on my bank account. But if I hadn't been so fortunate, it could have cleaned me out, then I don't know what I'd be doing right now. What would you do about your rent? What would you do about your mortgage? What would you do about your groceries? What would you do about, you know, just daily expenses?”
Wondering how to find a black gel pen with indelible or long-lasting ink? You may have to buy a new one. Check the labels. Some pens are branded as “fraud proof” or have wording on the packaging that says they help prevent criminal check washing or other document alterations.
Have a consumer complaint? Reach out to the NBC10 Boston Responds team online or call 1-888-521-NEWS.