KENNEBUNKPORT — Police say residents and business owners here have had a spate of check thefts from outposts in recent days, and in at least one case the theft resulted in a large sum of money being lost.
It happens when people enter outgoing messages in a residential or business mailbox. Thieves look for a letter addressed to sellers who can have a check, steal it, cash the check, and then cash it, said Kennebunkport Police Chief Craig Sanford.
The easiest way for criminals to find mail to steal is to look for mailboxes with raised flags, which often contain bill payments along with personal checks, according to AARP Fraud Watch.
Some changes are called “check wash” by the United States Postal Inspection Service.
Checks are stolen from mailboxes, “washed” in chemicals to remove ink, rewritten and then used, the Postal Inspection Service said in a news release. Check fraud scams involve changing payee names and often pretending the dollars are on checks and fraudulently depositing them, the service said.
Sanford said thieves make copies of the checks and cash them.
In a recent incident in Kennebunkport, the owner of the check lost “thousands of dollars” to mail theft.
This isn’t the first time scams like this have hit Kennebunkport, including mail theft. 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, and the credit card company would issue new cards. Thieves take them, apply for the card, and go to the expenses when it arrives.
The washing machine movement has been around for many years. In the year In 1998, the Associated Press reported that a group of thieves in Miami made off with $600,000 by wiping mailboxes with paint remover solution and rewriting them. A total of 175 victims lost money in this scam.
An online search for reports of check laundering and check theft turned up dozens of news stories from around the country in 2022, all of which indicate that the practice is ongoing.
Law enforcement agencies in neighboring communities said they have not received any reports of theft from mailboxes.
A spokesman for the York County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees Arundel, said no mail thefts had been reported in that community since Jan. 19.
Kennebunk Police Lt. Chris Russell said by phone that the proximity of Kennebunkport doesn’t mean there aren’t any problems, but none have been reported to his agency at the time.
Kennebunkport police advise people to check their money regularly, don’t leave overnight messages in their mailboxes and report thefts to authorities.
“It may be worth your time to take the checks to the post office, and if you live in a rural area, buy a locked mailbox,” Sanford said.
Oturry – Jonathan Fadiman