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Mailbox Theft

Posted on | March 24, 2010 | 12 Comments

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mailbox-theft

I looked at the screen and felt the blood drain from my face and a ball of stress start to build in my stomach. What was that check for $795 that had just posted to my checking account? I knew I hadn’t written a check for that amount recently. I pulled up the check image and felt even more worried: I didn’t recognize the payee or the memo and although the signature looked like mine, there were obvious differences and the number 7 in the amount box was written in a style I’ve never used. What was going on?

I called my husband and left him a message saying that I thought we had a problem with our checking account and then I called my bank’s Customer Service number. This was not a time for wading through many levels of automated menus – someone could be out there with my checkbook merrily writing checks against my bank account! I hung up and called my branch who instructed me to come into the branch as soon as possible so they could set the fraud process into motion.

Driving home I was extremely worried. I knew I’d last used the checkbook in our house and that I’d left it in the house. This raised the very nasty possibility that someone had broken into our home and stolen the checkbook. But, I had a pleasant surprise when I got home, the checkbook was still there and the duplicate of the last check I’d written clearly showed my $39 payment for a parking ticket. Bugger. Now I’d have to pay the parking ticket again too.

Earlier in the week, I’d been rushing to work in the morning so I’d left the parking ticket payment in my mailbox with the handy-dandy flag raised to indicate to the mail carrier that there was a letter to be picked up. Well, it had been picked up alright, but not by the mail carrier.

I spent the next couple of hours at the bank dealing with the required paperwork to submit a fraud claim, freeze my checking account and open a new account. Thankfully, since I had noticed the transaction so quickly, the check had not fully cleared and I’ll get my money back within 48 hours. According to the bank branch staff, this type of fraud claim can take up to 30 days to be processed.

So why am I writing about this on my supposedly-travel blog? Well, this whole experience made me realize how important it is to manage mail delivery when you’re away from your home. If you’re only going to be away for a weekend or even a few days mid-week, it’s easy to think that a mail hold is too much hassle. It’s not. It’s a worthwhile security precaution. You can now start and stop mail holds on the USPS website, it couldn’t be simpler.

Normal, travel-related programming will resume promptly…

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12 Responses to “Mailbox Theft”

  1. Tweets that mention Mailbox Theft - WanderMom -- Topsy.com
    March 25th, 2010 @ 2:07 am

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michelle Duffy, Bosca. Bosca said: Mailbox Theft: I looked at the screen and felt the blood drain from my face and a ball of stress start to build … http://bit.ly/bEwLVo [...]

  2. Suzanne
    March 25th, 2010 @ 3:31 am

    Oy, scary. I always use the hold mail service when I go out out town, even for just a day or two. It’s also not a great idea to advertise your upcoming trips outside your immediate circle of friends. Talk about trips on Twitter and Facebook AFTER they happen, not before.

  3. Amy @ The Q Family
    March 25th, 2010 @ 7:28 am

    Wow! Great tip about arranging the mail service! The identity theft has become such a big issue now.

    I also agree with Suzanne about announcing upcoming trip. I did post about my upcoming trip but typically I don’t specify the date. I also write my posts after the trip instead of real-time blogging.

  4. uberVU - social comments
    March 25th, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by wandermom: New from @wandermom: Mailbox Theft http://bit.ly/bEwLVo

  5. Kara Williams
    March 25th, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

    Michelle –

    I am confused — they stole the check made out to your local police station (or whatever) and crossed out the police station name, and made a new payee? And then wrote over the “thirty nine” amount?

    What part of the story am I missing? I don’t get exactly what they took.

    Kara

  6. wandermom
    March 25th, 2010 @ 2:05 pm

    Hi Kara,
    The check was “wiped”. I have no idea how someone would do that, but it was bizarre. I had a check duplicate in my hand-writing made out to Seattle Municipal Court for $39, but the check that was presented at the bank (and showed up on my bank account) was to an entirely different payee for $795.
    The bank folks didn’t seem surprised. Just said that the check had been “wiped”.
    Michelle

  7. wanderdad
    March 26th, 2010 @ 12:56 pm

    The technique used is called check washing – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Check_washing for some more info.

  8. Debbie
    March 26th, 2010 @ 9:27 pm

    This is scary, but we have had the similar thing happen to us. Get this they hit us twice in the same day, thankfully we caught it the same day and was able to get to the bank and do the same thing you have done.

  9. Dina
    March 27th, 2010 @ 10:30 pm

    Check fraud seems to be so prevalent these days! It happened to us a few years ago and when we discovered it, it really makes you feel violated!

  10. Jenny DB
    April 6th, 2010 @ 5:06 pm

    WOW what a pain in the behind… Seattle has had a LONGTIME problem with this. Actually our company developed the Mail Boss because our mail was stolen and checks washed at locally owned Epoch Design 3x… and all the other locking mailboxes on the market are junk.

    Holding your mail is a great idea, but there are some crooks out there who literally follow mail trucks looking for mailboxes to target in broad daylight. And if they get enough on you for full blown ID theft it will be a much larger nightmare than your check fraud!

    One piece of advice: The Uni-Ball 207 is a pen that is very difficult to wash. However, the best advice is to never send sensitive mail via your curbside mailbox. Pay online when possible and if necessary use a blue USPS box.

    SUPER IMPORTANT TO USE A HIGH SECURITY LOCKING MAILBOX like the Mail Boss because most can be fished or pried open. Identity theft is what they’re after when they steal incoming mail. It’s the fastest growing crime in the country (thanks to soaring methamphetamine abuse problems) and vigilance is key. So lock up your mailbox! Or else all that shredding your doing (what do you shred btw? your mail!) is futile…

  11. Jenny DB
    April 6th, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

    PS Check “wiping” or Check Washing is what they are referring to. All the meth heads and crooks know about it. They use a special solution that basically absorbs alot of the ink and then they just change the payee and the amount. That is why I mentioned the UniBall 207 … it’s a pen that is very difficult to wash. We reviewed it on our blog here: http://www.mailboss.net/uni-ball-207-checks-out/

  12. Mail Boss Locking Security Mailbox - the Official MailBoss site » Blog Archive » Locking Mailbox - Mail Theft Monday 4510
    April 6th, 2010 @ 9:22 pm

    [...] We must stay vigilant. Michelle writes a warning on her Wandermom blog not leave checks in the outgoing mail: I looked at the screen and felt the blood drain from my face [...]

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