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Thieves Breaking Into West Philadelphia Mailboxes, Fraudulently Cashing Personal Checks For Thousands

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Postal service mailboxes in West Philadelphia are being broken into and checks are being stolen, then being fraudulently cashed for thousands of dollars.

This really has officials scratching their heads. Eyewitness News spoke to neighbors, a councilmember, a state representative and even a postal inspection service and no one can say how thieves are getting into blue collection boxes and taking off with other people's mail and personal checks.

"I was just like really confused. I was like, 'Did I do some kind of math wrong?'" Michael Long said.

Long recently put a roughly $40 check in a neighborhood Postal Service mailbox by his West Philadelphia home for his electric bill, trusting it would get to PECO. It never did.

"One day, I logged into my bank account and saw that I had zero dollars because someone had taken my PECO check and forged the amount and changed the amount and changed it to $3,000," Long said.

Another man who didn't want to give his name says two checks he put into a blue collection box were taken and fraudulently cashed, totaling about $8,000.

"When it happened twice, I figured, well somebody must be stealing checks and writing them to other places," he said.

Several Postal Service mailboxes in and around the 19143 zip code in West Philly have been broken into over the past year, some multiple times.

"Mail theft is a very serious issue," George Clark, with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, said.

Eyewitness News asked Clark if there is any sense that these thefts are connected. He said he doesn't know, but he did say people should trust the mailboxes and these types of thefts are rare.

"The number of thefts out of blue boxes or out of any sources are exceedingly rare," Clark said.

"This is eroding the trust our residents have in the Post Office, which is very concerning," Councilmember Jamie Gauthier said. "We want to see USPS treat this with the urgency it deserves."

The Postal Inspection Service says oftentimes, people want to write checks to pay their bills on weekends, but when mail is placed into the blue collection boxes on Saturday evening or Sunday, mail often sits in them until it's picked up on Monday. So, it's best to hold off on putting mail in them if you can.

As for the victims that Eyewitness News spoke with, they say their banks reimbursed them the money.

Gauthier has a complaint form here.

The USPS also encourages people to file complaints if fraudulent checks are made in their names.

Gauthier is working with Rep. Rick Krajewski and Rep. Dwight Evans to make collection boxes in the area more secure.

Krajewski said the postmaster had committed to changing the locks for the mailboxes in the areas where thefts are happening.

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