Norridge residents warned of check washing scheme, mail thefts from USPS boxes
NORRIDGE, Ill. - Norridge police are warning residents of an influx in mail thefts – resulting in altered checks, stolen money, and late payments.
Since January, Norridge police have investigated more than 40 mail thefts.
Police say thieves are stealing mail to look for checks. Offenders then alter those checks and cash in, according to police.
"The checks are washed through a chemical process, they’re re-written for a new amount, a new payee and then they are deposited in banks in other places," said Norridge Police Chief Brian Goss.
Two of those mail thefts were caught on camera outside Norridge Village Hall, located at the corner of Irving Park Road and Olcott Avenue – a bold move given it is just steps away from the police department.
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A suspect wearing all gray with brown boots can be seen opening the postal box and stealing mail at 12:26 a.m. on May 25. In the second video, a suspect wearing a gray sweatshirt with red sleeves and white shoes is seen stealing mail at 1:24 a.m. on Aug. 14. In both instances, the thief appears to have a key.
Police said the same vehicle, a dark-colored Chevy, is believed to be used in both of the thefts.
"As quickly as they got out, they opened up the mailbox, they stole a couple letters, jumped back in the car, and they were gone, probably under 30 seconds," said Goss.
It's a disturbing trend that Norridge Police Chief Brian Goss says isn't only happening in Norridge, but in surrounding areas, too.
"Terrible, because you want to trust people," said Kristine Heller, who mailed letters in Harwood Heights on Wednesday.
One Norridge woman tells FOX 32 Chicago she believes she may be a victim to this scheme. She mailed a water bill four weeks ago and the check still hasn't cleared.
"If these people are so good at scamming, why don’t they get a real job. That’s what someone said to me when my account was hacked at Chase Bank. They’re like, well if they’re so good at the computer, so good at it, who is doing it. Most people are honest, who is it," said Cynthia Vladusich of Norridge.
At times, residents are only noticing that something isn’t right when they receive a late notice from their bill company, or a withdrawn amount they never authorized.
"We don’t want [residents] to put their mail, especially when they’re mailing checks, into the blue mailboxes. Go to the post office – walk inside and mail it directly inside," said Goss in a new warning to community members.
As Goss explains, how the crooks could be getting access to these mailboxes is just as disturbing.
"The keys are all universal to all the mailboxes, whether it's the blue mailboxes or condo association mailboxes, so we believe there are several different ways they are getting the keys. They are robbing mail carriers, some mail carriers may be possibly selling the keys, or if they have friends that are mail carriers they are making copies of the keys," said Goss.
To protect yourself from this crime, police suggest you take the following steps:
- When writing a check, use a ‘Super Security Ink Pen’ like a Uniball 207 Retractable Gel Pen. Goss says this isn’t foolproof, but will make checks more difficult to alter.
- Deposit your mail inside the post office instead of placing it in a standalone blue mailbox.
- If you must use a standalone mailbox to send a check, drop it off right before pickup time.
- Pay your bills online.
Norridge police are working with U.S. Postal Police to find the suspects.
The Postal Inspection Service states that if a business or resident believes they have been a victim of mail theft, they should contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 1-877-876-2455 and file a complaint as soon as possible.
Additionally, victims of mail fraud should report the incident to their local police department.