The St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office (SCPSO) has in recent public announcements reported seeing a steady stream of local check fraud incidents occurring within St. Charles Parish. The crime often involves thieves taking outgoing mail from St. Charles Parish residents’ mailboxes in search of checks that can be altered and cashed.
“Thieves use chemicals to remove ink from checks, change the payee name and dollar amount, and then cash the altered checks,” Sgt. Bradley Walsh, 26-year Criminal Investigation veteran of the SCPSO, said of the all too common scam. “When altering the checks, they write them in other people’s names and get that person to cash the check and give them a cut of the funds.”
A typical example of this type of crime, Walsh explained, would be as follows: a thief steals a check, “washes” it to remove some of the original information, writes it out for $1,000, keeping $700 for themselves and giving $300 to the individual that cashes the altered check for them.
“Thieves can completely wipe out a family’s bank and savings account,” Walsh cautioned of this type of crime. “Normally banks reimburse the money, but it may take an extended period of time.”
Check fraud has more than doubled over the past three years nationally, according to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the U.S. Treasury’s investigative arm. More than 680,000 cases of possible check fraud were reported last year alone, up from 350,000 in 2021.
The main source of stolen checks, FinCEN warned, is the U.S. mail. Overall mail theft has become so extensive, the United States Postal Service (USPS) issued a comprehensive new plan earlier this year to crack down on mail theft. Check fraud has reportedly become a lucrative business for organized crime, often involving entire networks of criminals who sometimes rob mail carriers in order to obtain mail in bulk quantities.
The SCPSO offered a few tips for St. Charles Parish residents to help avoid becoming victims of this type of check and mail fraud.
“Avoid mailing checks if you do not have to, and go inside the Post Office to mail checks,” Amanda Pertuis, SCPSO Public Information Officer said. “Pay your bills online or with automatic payments and monitor your checking account regularly.”
Pertuis also said residents should take care to not leave mail in mailboxes overnight and have the Post Office hold mail, or ask a trusted friend to pick up mail while away from home.
“I urge everyone, including businesses, to be vigilant and check their bank accounts more frequently. If you see someone removing mail from your neighbor’s mailbox, contact the Sheriff’s Office immediately by calling 911 or 985-783-6807 so a patrol officer can be sent,” Sheriff Greg Champagne said. “You will be asked to provide a description of the person, a description of the vehicle and license plate if available, and what direction they were going when they left.”