In both cases, the crooks inflated the dollar amount on the checks and wrote a different name in the payee line.
Dadlani and Albasi ultimately got their money back, but the ordeal was time-consuming and emotionally draining and left them vulnerable to identity theft.
And they are far from alone as victims.
Numerous Jersey City residents have had checks stolen in the past year, and the thefts are not confined to one particular mailbox. Checks have been intercepted, altered and cashed after they were placed in envelopes and dropped in at least two other nearby USPS collection boxes.
The crime is not unique to Jersey City.
The Boston area was hit by a rash of thefts at USPS boxes in February. Roughly $200,000 in checks were stolen from a collection box outside a New Orleans post office that same month. And the situation got so bad in Peachtree City, Georgia, that police warned residents to stop dropping their mail at the main collection box.
“That’s right do not, stop, don’t do it, halt, blockade, cease, discontinue, freeze, terminate, placing any mail you don’t want stolen from the big blue mailbox in front of the United States Post Office located in Peachtree City,” the police department posted on its Facebook page.
The thefts raise fresh questions about the security of the U.S. mail system at a time when the Postal Service is under intensifying scrutiny over its ability to move and safeguard mail-in ballots for the 2020 presidential election. President Donald Trump has claimed that the increased use of mail-in ballots will lead to fraud even though numerous studies and reports have found there’s no widespread evidence of voter fraud in the U.S.
The available data suggests that thefts at USPS collection boxes — at least the ones that are reported — are relatively uncommon.
In recent years, the problem seems to have been concentrated in the Northeast. Nationwide, there were 2,881 reports last year of people illegally pulling mail out of collection boxes, according to U.S. Postal Inspection Service data obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request. More than 1,530 of them were in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The postal inspectors have received 1,395 reports across the nation so far this year.