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Mailbox 'fishing' and 'check washing' becoming widespread concern

Mailbox "fishing" and "check washing" becoming widespread concern
Mailbox "fishing" and "check washing" becoming widespread concern 02:19

WATERTOWN – Following a report last week on a mailbox fishing scheme in Watertown, WBZ-TV heard from several viewers who said the same thing had happened to them.

Thieves have been fishing mail out of USPS mailboxes and searching for checks. Police said the suspects look for checks to "wash" in an effort to cash them out. It's often done successfully.

Check washing is when someone removes the name and original amount the check is written for, then replaces it with a name and new total of their liking.

"Honestly, it could happen anywhere. They go from one town to another."

Tom Slamin lives in Natick and fell victim to this check washing scheme last March. Slamin tried to pay a bill by mailing a check but didn't realize it had been compromised until he received a notification that the bill had gone unpaid.

He checked his bank account to find a withdrawal of more than $9,800. The check had been intercepted and altered. Slamin had effectively been robbed without even knowing it.

"Honestly when I first found out I was in shock and then I was really pissed. It took me a long time to save this money up," Slamin said.

He encourages people to keep money in a savings account rather than a checking. Slamin said it's not a matter of if this will happen to you or someone you know, but when.

This mailbox fishing has been happening in communities throughout Massachusetts, and police departments report cases are up. It reflects a national trend. The U.S. Department of Treasury reports check fraud was up 84% from 2021-2022.

Lieutenant James O'Connor is with the Watertown Police Department. The agency is one of several in the area seeing an increase in mailbox fishing and check washing.

"Someone will wash that check with basic household chemicals in a matter of minutes. It's scary how easy it is," said O'Connor.

O'Connor is encouraging people who are mailing checks to walk-in and drop them off inside the post office or hand them directly to your postal carrier.

Police recommend that you keep an eye on your checking accounts. If money is taken out of the account, you have hours not days for any chance of getting it back.

"Timing is very critical for us to start our investigation but in a case of mailbox fishing and check washing you may not notice for a day or two," said O'Connor.

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