Police at the 19th Precinct are hot on the trail of criminals who go “mail fishing.” What is mail fishing? It’s a crime where bad people steal mail from those blue U.S. Postal Service mailboxes in search of checks. The malefactors “wash” the ink off the checks, except for the check writer’s signature. They then write in their own “pay to” names and often amounts, and cash the checks.
We’re obviously talking snail mail here. This is not to be confused with email “phishing,” another attack on our communications.
At the recent 19th Precinct community meeting, Commanding Officer Clint McPherson explained the who, what and why of this scam. And he offered advice on how the public can protect itself .
Drug dealers shift into financial crimes
Drug dealers are deciding that their trade is “not as healthy” as check-stealing and credit card fraud, McPherson said. After all, selling drugs on street corners exposes one to rival dealers, law enforcement and foul weather. So the bad actors are shifting into financial crimes, mail fishing among them.
In a cracked tribute to Angus MacGyver, the criminals rig poles with something sticky at the end. They push the poles into the mailboxes and pull out the mail. Then they rip open the envelopes looking for checks and throw the rest away. Then nail polish remover is used to remove, as noted above, the payee’s name and often the amount, leaving only the check writer’s signature. The scam artists fill in the newly blank lines and cash the check.
Zip code 10028 especially targeted
It happens all over the city, but on the East Side, the most messed-with boxes seem to be located in the 10028 zip code, which runs from Fifth Avenue to the East River in the 80s. Many of the mail fishers come from the other boroughs plus from Connecticut and New Jersey, according to McPherson.
New mailboxes have been developed with a different slot setup that makes it next to impossible to stick a pole down. The 19th Precinct now has four of them. That leaves the precinct’s other 270 mailboxes vulnerable to “fishing.”
How the public can protect itself from mail fishing
More of the old boxes will eventually be replaced, but law-abiding citizens have ways to protect themselves in the meantime. One thing you can do is deposit your mail at the post office instead of in your corner mailbox. If you use a street mailbox, do so close to pick-up time.
‘Every time you come up with something, they come up with something,’ McPherson said.
But there’s something else every check writer everywhere can and should do. Start writing checks with special ink that can’t be washed off. Such ink is found in uni-ball 207 pens, which sell for only a few bucks at neighborhood stores.
McPherson is under no illusions that stopping this scheme will permanently sideline the fraudsters.
“Every time you come up with something, they come up with something,” McPherson said.
Sad commentary, but there you have it.