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“Mail Fishing” The Latest Pivot from Mail Fraudsters to Steal Checks

  • Thieves are using multiple means to "fish" checks out of mail boxes
  • It takes very little time to snag multiple pieces of mail, any of which could contain a check
  • The Post Office recommends using mailboxes inside of a post office facility

We've shared previous stories concerning check theft from postal carriers, including actual physical attacks and mailbox break-ins. According to the  USPIS, there were 33,000 reports of incidents involving mail carrier robberies and mail theft in 2021, up from 24,000 in 2019.

Now, there is another wrinkle to mail theft.

WCVB in Boston reports on a new angle - or new "angling" - as fraudsters now engage in "mail fishing."

Blue Post Office Box

“Someone had taken one of my checks out of (the box), made it out to a different name, and they changed the amount to $20,000,” Norwood’s Carol Clough said.

In the mail fishing scam, thieves drop various items — bottles, mousetraps – tethered with string and covered in a sticky substance into mailboxes to snag mail.

“They throw it into the mailbox, and they literally fish around and then they pull out the mail, and then they look for envelopes that contain checks,” said Norwood Police Chief William Brooks.

Norwood police have seen the scam several times in the past month.

Mail Fishing: Got a Bite?

While "Mail Fishing" is not an act of violence, it's still potentially financially destructive to persons whose checks are "snagged" and altered. As seen in the video below, fraudsters can hook a lot of potential check-laden mail in a short period of time -- it is not a difficult maneuver to pull off by any means.

Reacting to the Rise in Mail Theft

In New York, the NYPD has started to get involved, according to a recent article from the New York Post:

The New York City Police Department has plastered signs on some blue postal boxes warning people about mailbox fishing.

“Sending a check or money in the mail? Beware of Mailbox Fishing!” says the signs, explaining that people should “drop mail that contain checks directly at the post office.”

Additionally, the Post Office is starting to take action, as we noted in an earlier post:

"Right now, the postal service is actually piloting a new, sort of mechanical-electronic interface on electronic blue boxes," Martel said. "It devalues those keys, if you will, which is our goal. Some astronomical claims have been made, and we want to devalue them. We don’t want them to be the only thing to get into those blue boxes."

post office

According to the New York Post, "thousands of boxes have been retrofitted to remove the old swinging door to narrow the mail slot." While this has decreased mail theft, this has not fully deterred mail thieves.

Banks Turning to Technology

Banks are taking the necessary steps to securing check payments with the latest innovations in AI and machine learning technology: Image Forensics AI. This technology leverages new CSV-AI (check stock validation), ASV-AI (automated signature verification) and check style verification along with amount discrepancy for detection of counterfeit check stock, forged maker signatures, and amount alterations. The result: 95%+ prevention rates for targeted use cases.

By combining image forensic AI with existing tech such as transaction-analytics software, banks are able to:

Fraud Prevention Cropped-OrbNet Forensic AI-01
  • Spot anomalous behavior on items processed through the transactional-based systems
  • Interrogate check images with image-forensic AI to identify counterfeits, forgeries, or alterations
  • Send flagged items for manual review by fraud analysts

The post office, law enforcement, and banks are all taking the necessary steps to stop the stolen check epidemic. However, no one single entity can stop mail thieves alone. These three, along with consumers, need to continue to collaborate to ensure check payments are secure.

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