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Mail theft mystery at Dallas post office "alarming and disappointing"

I-Team: Mail theft mystery at Dallas post office "alarming and disappointing"
I-Team: Mail theft mystery at Dallas post office "alarming and disappointing" 07:45

DALLAS - "It's alarming and it's disappointing that it's happening in my city!"

For 28 years, Kim Pettigrew has been designing homes and businesses from her showrooms inside the World Trade Center in Dallas.

And… "For 28 years I've been cutting checks at my place of business and mailing checks at the main post office in Dallas."

The furniture showroom owner says her same manager drives the same business checks every week. "Same place, almost same time. Same exact bank account number that I've had for 28 years."

Until now.

On Friday, Feb.16, Pettigrew's manager dropped a nearly $3,000 business check in one of the dropboxes at the Main Post Office in Dallas off I-30.

But three days later, she got an unnerving call.

"The Monday after … I was called by a financial institution in Fort Worth called Plus Financial telling me a woman presenting my check for cash," she said.

Pettigrew's check should have been headed to her bank in New York; however, less than 72 hours after it was dropped off at the Dallas post office, a woman in Fort Worth had a counterfeit version of it and was trying to cash it at PLS Financial on McCart Avenue.

"She's definitely not anyone I've ever written a check to."

Pettigrew said she learned it was happening when an employee from PLS called her to see if she should cash the check.

Pettigrew immediately called her bank to report the theft, but her troubles did not end there.

"Wednesday morning, at approximately the same time that I got the same call on Monday," Pettigrew said another employee from PLS called her asking if he should cash the check again; the same check, the same woman, at the same place.

"I said if you don't take that check and call the Fort Worth police, I don't know what else I can tell you to do. It's fraud."

This time, Pettigrew convinced PLS to send her a copy of the counterfeit check.

Pettigrew showed the I-Team what the original check she wrote to her 401K company trust in New York should look like. The fraudulent check, which appeared to be copied, looked identical except for some key security measures.

"They couldn't reproduce the holographic or the security emblem, but everything else was definitely exact as how I if I were to write a check to this individual."

Pettigrew said the quality of the counterfeit convinced her the person presenting the check at PLS had the original.

Within a matter of days, it had been stolen and reproduced. The speed at which this happened infuriates and baffles Pettigrew.

PLS sent Pettigrew the driver's license the woman repeatedly presented while trying to cash the check.

The I-Team has confirmed the license is a legitimate Texas document, and the woman is a real Fort Worth resident. We've repeatedly visited the address – leaving messages on the video doorbell hoping to find out if the license was stolen or if the woman was involved.

We haven't heard back from anyone at the address in response to our requests.

The I-Team also visited the PLS location in Fort Worth, and while no one locally would talk to us, the corporate legal team told us their employees called Pettigrew because that's the company's practice if they are suspicious of any transaction.

An attorney from PLS also emailed the I-Team saying the company received a search warrant. PLS told us it was sending the surveillance videos of the check cashing attempts to Fort Worth detectives.

Fort Worth Police and the U.S. Postal Inspectors will only tell the I-Team this is an "open investigation", and they are investigating.

The I-Team has learned these investigations are surging nationwide. We obtained a United States Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network warning sent to financial institutions nationwide a year ago.

It warns about the rise in mail theft stating, "Despite the declining use of checks in the United States, criminals have been increasingly targeting the U.S. Mail since the COVID-19 pandemic to commit check fraud."

It states from March 2020 through February 2021, the USPIS received 299,020 mail theft complaints. The alert warns institutions this is "an increase of 161% compared with the same period" a year earlier.

In 2022, the Treasury received more than 680,000 reports of check fraud -- nearly double previous years.

The top line of the alert warns the institutions that there is "a nationwide surge in check fraud schemes targeting the U.S. Mail."

"The Department of Justice has been a great partner," said Sean Smith, a United States postal inspector.

The rise in mail theft and check fraud is the reason Smith says the public needs to do what Pettigrew did and report the crime; however, he admits, consumers may not always get a response.

"I don't know if we will get back to everybody," Smith said, "but that doesn't mean that an investigation is not happening behind the scenes. That report that you send us could help us in our case."

Pettigrew is not letting up. She says she'll fight the fraud she experienced until her case is solved.

"It's really alarming and it's disappointing that it's happening in my city," Pettigrew said.

The business owner has been forced to change all her accounts. She says her company was severely impacted by the fraud attempt, and she's now determined to see the thieves in her case prosecuted.

"People count on the U.S. Postal Service," said Pettigrew.

"I would like to see someone be accountable. We've got a huge problem here. And if someone doesn't acknowledge that we've got a problem, it's never going to get fixed."

A spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service in Dallas would not comment, and referred the I-Team to the United States Postal Inspectors.

The I-Team is also digging into two other cases involving mail theft and check fraud involving hundreds of thousands of dollars in business checks taken from a Fort Worth post office and a $70,000 check stolen from another Dallas post office.

Research is revealing three common ways mail thieves operate:

  1. The Department of Justice has reported on several internal cases nationwide involving postal employees.
  2. Thieves use a fishing pole device to dig items out of boxes.
  3. And, attacks on mail carriers to steal arrow keys is a major problem. Arrow keys are the master keys that unlock large numbers of mailboxes within certain districts.

CBS News explored the systemic problem that for decades has enabled widespread mail theft of arrow keys to continue happening. 

These investigations are all part of a collective effort by CBS News nationwide to dive deep into this important issue.

The I-Team will continue searching for answers in Texas and specifically in the case involving this Dallas business. 

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