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Woman Wary Of U.S. Postal Mailboxes After Checks Are Stolen And She Loses Over $7,000 In Check-Washing Scheme

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Countless envelopes slide into U.S. Postal Services boxes each day – but what if the mail never makes it to its destination?

CBS 2's Lauren Victory on Monday revealed the $7,000 reason why one viewer is wary of the old blue boxes.

Mailing a check for utility bills was nothing out of the ordinary for Colleen Sawicki.

"Oh yeah, I put it in a U.S. Postal mailbox," she said.

But something went wrong. Two checks intended to pay for her ComEd and water bills were cashed at Wells Fargo, which later notified her about the suspicious activity.

The recipients' names were changed to "Elvis Jr. Morale" and "Tamarra Rose," and the amounts were inflated - the ComEd from $40 to $3,173 and the Department of Water Management bill from $40 to $4,469.32.

A police investigator told Sawicki she was likely a victim of check washing – a scam that involves someone changing the payee name and the dollar amount and then fraudulently depositing the check.

Sawicki's bank, TCF, refunded the check for nearly $4,500, but she was out the other more than $3,000 for nearly three months.

"People need their money, you know?" Sawicki sadi. "I mean, it's ridiculous."

We emailed TCF about the holdup and it refunded that $3,173 the same day. But because of the ordeal, Sawicki has changed the way she sends money.

"As a matter of fact, my landscaper, I drove to his house and put the check in his mailbox because I'm afraid to put it in the U.S. Postal mailbox anymore," she said.

So should you steer clear of the blue box? While USPS did not provide numbers on how common theft was, we found an FAQ for stolen mail on its website and tips for avoiding it.

Among the advice is, "Deposit mail close to pickup time and don't send cash."

We also learned that USPS started installing theft-proof mailboxes and security cameras with a hefty price tag of $1,200.

USPS also said it is sending an investigator out to look at the mailbox from which Sawicki sent her checks.

USPS told us that you can help keep mail safe by reporting suspicious activity around blue collection boxes, as well as contact inspectors if you believe you have been a victim of mail theft.

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