Thieves are stealing checks from USPS mailboxes, reports a journalist who was targeted first-hand.
An NBC News reporter investigated increased cases of checks stolen from the mail after he became a victim of this type of fraud himself.
But the couple’s Bank of America account showed that the amount was paid out to Diamond Alexis Jones — a name they didn’t recognize, and certainly not the name of a former tenant the check was made out to. A picture of the check revealed a peculiar message scrawled in the memo line: “COVID expenses.”
While Schapiro was refunded by his bank, he noticed another charge a few days later, this time for $6,421.11 and made to look like it came from a business with his last name in it (“Prosperity Schapiro LLC”).
Schapiro was refunded again, but this time he closed the account. He also reported it to postal inspectors but has not received a follow-up four months later (the incidents occurred in April).
After reporting it to police in Jersey City — where he lives and it happened — Schapiro discovered that his experience was not a one-off incident.
Schapiro’s search for answers led him on a wild goose chase of questions and bouncing around from organizations deferring to other ones.
He learned how difficult it is to trace these scams to specific people, even when specific names are listed on checks.
In 2017, then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara enumerated all the ways criminals commit fraud through banks.
“In various iterations of the scheme, those bank accounts have belonged to the mail thieves, to complicit account holders, or to unsuspecting third parties whose debits cards or personal identifying information has been stolen,” Bharara said after eight men were charged with bank fraud and mail theft at the time.
Schapiro’s questions also led him to other individuals who had been victims of similar schemes, first fellow Jersey residents who used the same mailbox he did, then people in other cities like Boston, New Orleans, and Peachtree City, Georgia.
An August 2019 Facebook post by the Peachtree City Police Department and Peachtree City Fire Rescue urged residents not to use a specific USPS box that had been repeatedly targeted.
“That’s right do not, stop, don’t do it, halt, blockade, cease, discontinue, freeze, terminate, placing any mail you don’t want stolen from the big blue mailbox in front of the United States Post Office located in Peachtree City,” the police department posted on its Facebook page.
Schapiro’s report comes at a time when there are questions surrounding the security and ability of the USPS to successfully deliver mail-in ballots for the 2020 election.
According to its police department, Los Angeles has seen a 30% increase in mail theft this year, KNX reported on Friday. Assaults on postal service workers have also increased.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced Tuesday that the U.S. Postal Service will suspend its operational changes such as removing mailboxes, and processing equipment until after the presidential election on November 3.
Hoping to allay fears of Americans that USPS will not be able to handle mail-in voting, DeJoy added that there will be no changes to retail hours at Post Offices and overtime has, and will continue to be, approved as needed for workers.