Why Criminals Are Targeting Mailboxes in Northern Kentucky

Northern Kentucky is being inundated with forged or counterfeit checks.

Kenton County Commonwealth's Attorney Rob Sanders said that there are currently thirty open cases in the region's most populous county where defendants have already been charged. "There are probably double or triple that number of open investigations," Sanders told The River City News.

The target? Mailboxes. "Checks are mostly being stolen out of people's mailboxes," Sanders said. "The thieves are driving around neighborhoods with mailboxes out at the street and are just looking for ones with the flag up."

That's when, Sanders said, the criminals snatch the mail and take off. Once safely out of sight, the mail is searched for checks while the rest is discarded. Then the process gets complicated: Thieves use chemicals to remove pen ink but not the printing on the checks which leaves them with a blank check to forge. "If that doesn't work, they take the routing number and account numbers off the check and print them on business checks they purchased at an office supply store like Staples or Office Depot," Sanders said. "Victims in the cases have been both individuals and businesses. They usually don't realize they are victims until either checks start bouncing because their accounts have been cleaned out or creditors start sending late notices for bills the victims thought were paid."

The suspects are typically long gone before the police are notified.

"There are probably two dozen warrants out for people who cashed forged checks but haven't been located yet," Sanders said. The forgers, Sanders said, usually avoid cashing the checks personally because doing so requires identification and is often under the watchful glare of a surveillance camera. "The people cashing the checks are almost always caught sooner or later but that's almost akin to chasing addicts rather than drug dealers. The check forgers are usually convincing homeless people, drug addicts, or others in desperate need of money to cash the checks for them in exchange for a cut of the money. Unlike buying from a dealer, however, the people cashing the forged checks rarely known the identity of the person who asked them to cash the check, so it's much more difficult to go 'up the food chain' to get the bigger fish."

Sanders said that he would advise people not use their mailboxes for outgoing mail, especially for checks. "Even if residents are not mailing checks, you still run the risk of having your mail stolen by thieves hoping to find a check in the mix," he said. "(Public) Mailboxes are a much safer way to pay bills. Even that, however, is not fool-proof. If you can see the mail in a mailbox, don't use it. The thieves can see it, too."

At least one group of thieves was stealing from the mailboxes outside the main US Post Office branch in Covington. "Unlike smaller boxes, the ones at the post office don't have obstructions to keep thieves from reaching in," Sanders said. Some members of the group captured after stealing mail from the boxes in Covington said that they would make off with whatever they could get their hands on, Sanders said.

Sanders's office is dealing with cases from all three Northern Kentucky counties, he said. "Virtually every police agency in Kenton County has open mail theft cases," he said. Cities with multiple banks have been hit particularly hard, Sanders added.
 
"In addition to being cautious about where mail is deposited, I would also suggest regularly checking account balances and returned checks to make sure checks are only cashed once and that they were still payable to the intended recipient," Sanders advised.
 
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-Staff report