Nationwide, mail thefts are surging to record levels. The preferred targets are people who mail old-school checks to pay their bills. Once the criminal gang has your check, they use a bank app that creates a picture of the check to “direct deposit” your funds into an account controlled by thieves. Then, the more sophisticated criminal groups use the routing number from your stolen check to drain your checking account. This occurs even if the check was written to a utility company or a commercial enterprise, such as AT&T for example.
Favorite targets include the elderly who still write old-school-style checks. Elderly victims are least able to deal with this threat and suffer the most harm. Criminals who steal the checks create unpaid bills for the victims, which could lead to various service interruptions or even the disconnection of utilities.
The thefts seem to be most prevalent in areas or regions of the country where older residences are located. They not only steal mail from individual mailboxes, but particularly favor community lockbox-style mailboxes where a whole block or community receives and sends mail.
These techniques have been favored by criminal gangs for over a year, yet banks, bank deposit applications, and the United States Postal Inspectors have been unable to prevent them from growing.
I encountered two victims of this type of criminal activity in Southwest Ohio. In both cases, checks written to pay utility bills were cashed by a bank deposit app. In one of these cases, the checking account was drained of funds.
Ways to circumvent these criminal techniques:
Pay your monthly bills online.
Take your mail containing a physical check to an actual post office for mailing.
Use a credit card to pay your bills so you can circumvent this entire system. Just be sure to pay the balance on the credit card monthly.
Help your elderly parents or friends set up automatic bill pay to cover all their monthly bills.
Use PayPal or other applications to send your children, grandchildren or family members gifts of money. You can also complete a direct deposit at the bank from your account to theirs.
Sign up for Informed Delivery. This enables USPS to email you images of all your mail that will be delivered to your home or mail lockbox that day. With informed delivery, you can determine if something is missing from your mail.