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Beware of Postal Mailboxes

mailboxFishingAs we move into a digital age, cyber crime has become our primary security concern. However, using devices no more high-tech than a string and some glue, thieves successfully steal checks, mail, and identities through a process so simple that we often miss it. It's called "Mailbox Fishing."

The crime is simple: thieves create a makeshift fishing rod by attaching an adhesive substance such as a rodent glue trap to a pole or string and "fish" mail out of blue US postal mailboxes. While unsuspecting victims believe they are safely mailing their cards, letters and bills, thieves have other plans. As the Westchester County District Attorney's office explains on its website: "Once your mail is stolen, any enclosed personal checks might be "washed," or wiped clean of all handwriting using an acetone solution and rewritten to change the payee and payment amount. The check will later be cashed or deposited and the money withdrawn. Often times, the check writer won't know for a month or more that the check has gone missing."

Last week, a Scarsdale resident was the victim of mailbox fishing, which resulted in theft of over $20,000 from her bank account through check forgery. She mailed nine checks at the US postal mailbox located on the corner of Maple and Summit Aves in White Plains. Five days later, she learned from her bank that her checks were stolen out of the mailbox and the amounts and payees were altered. Her signature was the only thing to remain from the original checks. Thieves presented three checks for cashing at there different banks, two such checks were rewritten for $9980.00, and upon the attempted cashing of the fourth check, the bank suspected fraud and the account was closed. While the money has been returned, the thieves still remain at large, and the Scarsdale police are now involved in trying to track down the criminals, who are likely part of a larger ring that is plaguing Westchester with this mailbox fishing scheme.

Earlier this year, Scarsdale Police arrested a man who had fished mail out of the mailboxes located on Woodland Place and on Chase Road in front of the Scarsdale Post Office. Mailboxes at other locations in Scarsdale, including the mailbox at the five corners in Heathcote, and a mailbox on Boulevard, have also been the targets of mailbox fishing. Other Westchester towns are confronting similar issues. The Yonkers Police Department has reported that the postal service is in the process of upgrading door style mailboxes in Yonkers to the drop-slot variety to help prevent mailbox theft. In Tuckahoe, residents also have complained about being victims of mailbox fishing, and in Tarrytown Police posted a warning on Facebook to "Beware of Mailbox Fishing!"

New York City has been struggling with this crime for a while, prompting NYPD to send out a tweet with tips to help stay safe from mailbox theft.

Scarsdale Detective Joe Serio has been investigating mailbox fishing and working with the other police departments in the county and the US postal police to help reign in the criminals responsible for the rash of mailbox theft. He recommends always walking your mail into the post office to either deliver it into a mail slot inside the post office or to hand it to a postal worker directly. As the Scarsdale resident who recently fell victim to mailbox theft summed it up: "I always thought that the blue mailboxes were a safe way to mail letters and bills. I wish I had known that they are no longer secure. It would have only taken me a few extra minutes to walk my mail into the post office. I definitely will make this my routine from now on."

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