Checks stolen from residential, business PO boxes in Kennebunkport

Kennebunkport police are notifying residents and business owners that thieves are scouring mailboxes for bad checks, which they then copy, change and cash. Photo by Tammy Wells

KENNEBUNKPORT – Police here are notifying residents and business owners that checks have been stolen from outgoing mail in recent days, and in at least one case the theft resulted in the loss of a substantial sum of money.

This happens when people put outgoing mail in their home or business mailbox. Thieves look for mail addressed to sellers who likely have a check inside, steal it, change the check and then cash it, Kennebunkport Police Chief Craig Sanford said.

The easiest way for criminals to find mail to steal is to look for flagged mailboxes, which often contain bill payments with personal checks attached, according to AARP Fraud Watch.

Some alterations are called “wash checks” by the United States Postal Inspection Service.

The checks are stolen from mailboxes and “washed” in chemicals to remove the ink, reprinted and then used, the Postal Inspection Service said in a news release. Check laundering scams involve changing the payee’s name and often the dollar amount on the checks and falsely depositing them, the service said

Sanford said thieves make copies of the checks and then cash them.

He said in one recent incident in Kennebunkport, the owner of the check lost “thousands of dollars” to mail theft.

It’s not the first time such scams, including mail theft, have reached Kennebunkport. Sanford said in a phone interview late last week that a few years ago, thieves would go through mailboxes after the day’s mail arrived, asking card companies for offers on new cards. Thieves would take them, apply for the card, and when it arrived, start spending.

Check laundering activity has been around for many years. In 1998, the Associated Press reported on a group of thieves in Miami who dipped checks from mailboxes in de-ink solution, rewrote them and made off with $600,000. A total of 175 victims lost money in that scam.

An online search for reports of check laundering and check theft turned up numerous news stories from around the country in 2022, all of which point to the practice continuing.

Police in neighboring communities said they had no reports of theft from mailboxes.

A spokesman for the York County Sheriff’s Office, which patrols Arundel, said there have been no mail thefts reported in that community since Jan. 19.

Kennebunk Police Lt. Chris Russell said by phone that day that doesn’t mean there haven’t been incidents, especially since Kennebunkport is nearby, but none have been reported to their agency at that time.

Kennebunkport police encourage people to regularly check their financial activities, not to leave mail in the mailbox overnight and to report theft to authorities.

“It might pay to take your checks to the post office, and if you live in a rural area, get a mailbox that locks,” Sanford said.

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