A notice on a local mailbox warns people about “mail fishing.”

By Hannah Reale

Several checks dropped in mailboxes in the West 60s and 70s have been stolen and altered in recent months. Police are still investigating and did not have specifics to release about the criminal methods, but local precincts have recently been warning people about “mail fishing,” where thieves use tools to fish envelopes out of mailboxes.

On July 12, a 71-year-old woman discovered that she was a victim of check fraud. She had written a check for $92 to ConEd, but it was cashed for $695 to a different payee. She obtained a copy of the check and confirmed that it was forged. She had put it in the mailbox at 73rd Street and Columbus Avenue.

Just three days later, a 64-year-old woman discovered that 2 checks she had sent on July 3rd had been altered and cashed. Each was changed to a different payee and, in total, over $8,000 had been taken from her account. She had put the checks in the mailbox by the Post Office at 178 Columbus Avenue (between 67th and 68th).

On July 25, a 62-year-old female received a call from her bank, Citibank. They were calling to verify a check or multiple checks that had been flagged from her account. She determined that she did not write the checks and the transactions did not go through, but she had placed those checks to different payees and put them in the mailbox at 72nd Street and Broadway on July 8th.

Finally, on July 30, another female received a notification from Verizon that her bill had not been paid on time. She was sure she had written the check, so she went to her bank, Apple Bank, and saw that the payee and amount had been changed—from $357 to $3,650.

The last victim also noted that, when she went to Apple Bank, one of the employees that she spoke to claimed she was the tenth person who had come in with an issue of check fraud. They drew attention to three mailboxes in the area, including one at 73rd and Amsterdam that the victim believes she mailed her Verizon check from. However, when we contacted the branch manager, he was unable to confirm this report.

West Side Rag also received a message about possible fraud connected to the mailbox at 75th Street and West End Avenue.

The NYPD’s 20th and 24th precincts have both attempted to raise awareness about mail fishing, as we have previously written about. They recommend mailing checks directly from the Post Office, buying a particular type of pen that is not erased by fishers’ usual methods, and, if possible, transferring money online or with another safer method.

With check washing methods, like soaking the check in nail polish remover to remove the ink, anyone who gets access to your check can change the amount and recipient to whomever they choose. Be safe, Upper West Siders!

NYPD advice to avoid mailbox fishing. Courtesy of NYPD 24th Precinct’s Twitter account (@NYPD24Pct).

NEWS | 34 comments | permalink
    1. ScooterStan says:

      Re:”She had put the checks in the mailbox by the Post Office at 178 Columbus Avenue (between 67th and 68th).”

      Yup, there’s your problem! With a FEW MORE STEPS the person could have GONE INTO THE POST OFFICE and dropped the letters into one of its mail slots (no waiting on line to do this).

      This would guarantee that the letters WERE in the custody of the USPS and safe from (ooooh, dare we say it?) street-thugs.

      • BeNice says:

        And if she was mailing her checks on a Sunday or in the evening after the post office closed?? Would you then like her to break into the post office-to walk those few more steps?? You’re really quick to judge!

        • Martha says:

          I’m wondering about using the mail chutes that older buildings have. The mail goes directly into a USPS mailbox that has only a mail slot and the postal carrier, six days a week, empties the mailbox. Any opinions about safety?

          • ScooterStan says:

            Re: “You’re really quick to judge!”

            Oh, really? My post is time-stamped 8:28am and yours is stamped 9:10am.

            Wow, let’s get cracking! You let 42 minutes go past before replying!

            Better watch out; it’s Performance-Review Time.

            Re: “mailing her checks on a Sunday or in the evening after the post office closed??”

            Yup, Leave yer valuable documents in a TOTALLY INSECURE STREET MAILBOX OVERNIGHT!
            Maybe in Mayberry…maybe…….

          • Gil says:

            Those older mail chutes are unreliable and most are no longer in use. Things get stuck in them and you have no way to know if your mail wound up in the box or is stuck in the chute forever.

    2. JS says:

      It is about time mailboxes are re-designed so that this isn’t possible. As far as I am concerned, this is the fault of mailbox design.

    3. Scott says:

      I’ve noticed that the USPS has installed new restricted opening boxes in some locations, but not all. They need to swap out all of the old boxes, they’re terrible.

    4. John McGuire says:

      Do use mailboxes. Learn to use a computer.

      • San Ange says:

        Yo John : there are senior citizens older people etc who don’t have the skills to do things online: what world are you living in

        • John McGuire says:

          The same as you and there is direct deposit and auto pay even if you are on a fixed income.

    5. Mark Moore says:

      It’s almost quaint these days to see someone taking checks out of mailboxes.

    6. Chris says:

      I do not understand how these folks can cash these checks. The banks usually ask for a drivers License and want you to have an account at the bank (at least they use to). Also all the banks have great cameras so why haven’t the police circulated the photos?

      • San ange says:

        Good question Chris: perhaps they are getting sloppy

      • McGruff says:

        The crook likely goes to a check cashing store, where the employee there is probably in on the scam. The cops should find the check cashing stores where these doctored checks are being cashed and start asking questions ….

      • Joseph Bolanos says:

        Most of these felons use check cashier places where they readily accept fake ID to process checks. Or sometimes are acting in concert with the peeps.

      • Joseph Bolanos says:

        Unless the NYPD somehow finds someone in possession of some one else’s mail, don’t expect any arrests any time soon.
        Especially in the 20th precinct where crime fighting is a thing of the past, and summons issuance is the sole priority.
        The people whose purview of responsibility for these crimes are actually the US Postal Inspectors who work out of the downtown GPO. And they’re unlikely to work on these crimes unless a Federal official (congress or senator) puts a fire under their seats. Otherwise, these crimes will continue indefinitely. Sad, but true. We can, however, hope for the best and that the perp(s) make a mistake.

    7. Suzanne Davis says:

      This happened to me – a check I deposited in the mailbox in front off the (closed) post office on W. 60 St/near Bway was stolen and then my info was used in Brooklyn to try to cash a phony and forged check for $3,200. Alert TD Bank teller realized it was phony, called me, and then summoned the police. The guy was arrested. Am interested to learn from you that this is a trend. sd

    8. Rodger Lodger says:

      Don’t know if this matters, but the bank, not the account holder, is liable for cashing forgeries.

    9. Ken J. says:

      I just want to mention that the bank is responsible for refunding the money for these fraudulent checks. You can only have a problem if you don’t look at your bank statements.

      • San ange says:

        Great info Rodger and Ken. Thanks for confirming the banks responsiblilty. It is true you have to have an account to cash a check. And even check cashing places ask for ID .. so what is going on here????

    10. Robert says:

      It happened to me on Monday, January 16, when I mailed my quarterly tax payments in the mailbox in front of the 10025 post office on 104th Street. The P.O. was closed for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. I noticed that the mailbox had a new design: a narrow slot instead of the traditional pull-down receptacle. A nicely dressed middle-aged man approached and asked if I needed help getting the envelopes into the mailbox. After the theft became apparent later that week, I concluded that that man had wanted to see if my letters might contain checks. Fortunately the rewritten checks weren’t cashed by my bank. A police officer subsequently visited me at home with a pen with special ink to use for writing future checks.

    11. Nathan says:

      It’s almost more surprising that people would even think of check fraud these days. Are the perpetrators also senior citizens? I doubt the idea of check fraud would even occur to someone under 35. 😀

      But yeah, it’s laughable how insecure checks are.

    12. Chrigid says:

      Thanks for the nail-polish tip.

    13. lynn says:

      When someone is fishing for checks I’m assuming that they also pull out other mail not containing checks. Form letters, registrations, renewals, doctor bills, signed ‘original’ signed documents that can’t be faxed, etc. Is the NYPD or USPS concerned about these as well?

      If it’s really come to this, where there has to be a sign warning anyone against putting something in the mailbox then it’s definitely time for them to be redesigned and replaced.

    14. Westsider says:

      Since February, I’ve had 2 checks disappear from the USPS mailbox on 76th and West End. Most recent was to ConEd, mailed last month.

      Thankfully neither has ever reappeared or altered.

    15. Sean says:

      Doesn’t AARP sign ‘me up at 50? Being a senior citizen doesn’t mean you can’t adapt to change within limits. I know an 87 year old who checks her email although not every 5 minutes. The only thing the US Mail has over email is privacy. But for checks and taxes mailboxes are not the way to go. Some oldsters who refuse to use technology do so because they don’t want to be part of all that. It’s not because they don’t have the ability.

    16. Noma says:

      After reading this story, i checked my bank account to see if my rent check had been cashed. Surprisingly, it had not, and more than enough time passed by. First time this has ever happened to me, but it was the mailbox on Columbus and about 73rd.

    17. Westie says:

      Thank you!!!

      This happened to me on 72 and riverside. A package placed in box after hours on July 3 never was picked up by mailman based on tracking.

      This was an eBay item. One item was reimbursed, one wasn’t.

    18. Westie says:

      Also, put your mail in right before pick up time. Since my original lost mail on 72nd and Riverside, I’ve been doing that and my mail has made it to its destination successfully

    19. Barb says:

      Also had to stop payment on checks mailed at 73rd and WEA. Even if thief didn’t cash the checks, he/she has our SS# , DOB, etc. This is really bad!

      • Bruce says:

        How would the thief have your ss# and DOB from your check, Barb? That information isn’t on your check — or at least, it should never be on your check.

    20. Joseph says:

      Shame on the city and NYPD for offering advice on how to avoid the check fraud rather putting in the effort to catch the perpetrators – which should not be very difficult! It’s the same as with the general response to crime recently, with a new, blase, hands-off attitude. Welcome to DeBlasio’s new New York,fast returning to good old days of the 70s and 80s.