KENNEBUNKPORT — Police here are telling residents and business owners that checks sent in the mail have been stolen in recent days, and in at least one case the theft resulted in the loss of a large sum of money.
This happens when people drop outgoing mail into their residential or business mailboxes. Kennebunkport Police Chief Craig Sanford said thieves would look for mail addressed to vendors who might have checks in them, steal the checks, alter them and then cash them.
According to AARP Fraud Watch, the easiest way for criminals to find mail to steal is to look for mailboxes with raised signs, which often contain bill payments with personal checks.
Some of the changes have been dubbed “check laundering” by the USPS Inspection Service.
The Postal Inspection Service said in a news release that the checks were stolen from mailboxes, “washed” in chemicals to remove ink, rewritten and then used.Check laundering scams involve changing the payee’s name, usually the dollar amount on the check, and then fraudulently depositing the check, the service said.
Thieves would photocopy the checks and cash them, Sanford said.
In a recent incident in Kennebunkport, check owners lost “thousands of dollars” to mail theft, he said.
This isn’t the first time such scams, including mail theft, have popped up in Kennebunkport. A few years ago, thieves would rummage through mailboxes after the day’s mail arrived, looking for new cards from credit card companies, Sanford said in a phone interview late last week. The thief will take them, claim the card, and when it arrives, go on a spending spree.
Check laundering has been around for years. In 1998, the Associated Press reported that a group of Miami thieves made $600,000 by stuffing checks stolen from mailboxes in ink-removing solution and rewriting them. In total, 175 victims lost money in that fraud.
An online search for reports of check laundering and check theft turned up numerous news stories across the country through 2022, all suggesting the practice continues.
Law enforcement in neighboring communities said they had not received any reports of mailboxes being stolen.
A spokesman for the York County Sheriff’s Office, which patrols Arundel, said as of Jan. 1. On the 19th, the community received no reports of mail theft.
Lieutenant Chris Russell of the Kennebunk Police said on the phone that day that it was not to say that there were no incidents, especially since Kennebunkport is nearby, but at that time, their agency had not received any report.
Kennebunkport police are advising people to regularly check their financial activity, not leave mail in mailboxes overnight and report theft to authorities.
“It might be worth going to the post office to check, and if you live in a rural area, buy a mailbox with a lock,” Sanford said.
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