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Teaneck Residents Feeling 'Absolutely Violated' After Numerous Checks Stolen From Mail

TEANECK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) - Many residents of one New Jersey town are avoiding the post office after checks were stolen and forged.

"You feel violated. You feel absolutely violated," said Teaneck resident Jeremy Lentz.

Violated, and missing thousands of dollars from his checking account, CBS2's Nicholas Caloway reported.

Lentz wrote a check to his rabbi and dropped it in a mailbox outside the Teaneck post office a few days before Thanksgiving. But somewhere along the way, the check was stolen and what's called "washed," where the ink is erased, and criminals re-write the check to themselves.

"So a $100 check got forged for $6,310," he said.

Lentz thought crimes like this were rare, but after posting his story on social media, he quickly learned countless other Teaneck residents had nearly identical stories: Checks are mailed and stolen. Fortunes taken at the stroke of a pen.

"I saw a check written for $5,500," said Teaneck resident Judy Distler.

She had two checks stolen in the mail in June of last year. It was right after her husband died.

"And I thought they were targeting me because: New widow. I sat in front of my computer and cried," she said.

Lynne Adler also had two checks stolen in the mail. One was payment for a federal tax bill.

"Getting our money back was really difficult. We got letters that the IRS was going to seize our property," Adler said.

"Since the pandemic started, that's when it really started to pick up," said Michael Pagan of the Teaneck Town Council.

Pagan has also become a victim.

"Two of my checks were stolen, one was washed," Pagan said.

He said it's impossible to know how many checks were stolen in Teaneck alone, but it's a lot.

"I don't like guessing, but I would say thousands," Pagan said.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service said in October that arrests have been made in connection with these crimes, but checks are still being stolen.

It's not clear if they are being fished out of blue Post Office boxes, or if it's an inside job.

All the victims Caloway spoke with say they got their money back from their banks, but they now avoid writing checks, and no longer trust the U.S. Postal Service.

"I would not mail any checks whatsoever through the post office, period," Lentz said.

Caloway asked the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for more information about these crimes, but a spokesman for the agency said it does not confirm, deny or comment on the existence of ongoing investigations.

Beginning in early 2020, more than 250 stolen checks and incidents of mail fraud were reported to Teaneck police. That number is still climbing.

Nick Caloway contributed to this report

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