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Thieves are stealing checks from USPS boxes. Is it ‘mailbox fishing’ or an inside job?

The Postal Service rolled out new tamper-proof mailboxes across the northeast — but, as one NBC News reporter learned firsthand, crooks are still making off with people’s mail.
Image: Mail thieves

A USPS collection box along Pavonia Avenue at Coles Street in Jersey City, N.J. has safeguarded the precious correspondence of countless residents — until now.

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Perched on the corner of a quaint downtown block in this northern New Jersey city, it stands ready to serve the community from morning to night and through rain, sleet and snow.

A royal blue U.S. Postal Service mailbox.

For nearly two decades, a USPS collection box has stood along Pavonia Avenue at Coles Street, safeguarding the precious correspondence of countless residents.

But now some locals treat it like a pariah.

“I stopped putting checks in that mailbox,” Vinod Dadlani said.

“Never again,” Paul Albasi said.

The two men are victims of baffling and still-unsolved crimes. Checks they dropped in the box were stolen, altered and cashed.

The thief who made off with Dadlani’s check scored $4,819.

Whoever took Albasi’s got $4,901.33.

Image: Paul Albasi's check totaling $4,901.33 that was stolen and altered after being dropped off at a U.S. Postal Service mailbox in Jersey City, N.J.
Paul Albasi’s check totaling $4,901.33 that was stolen and altered after being dropped off at a U.S. Postal Service mailbox in Jersey City, N.J.Calla Kessler / for NBC News

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.

Image: "Never again," will Paul Albasi mail checks through the mailbox at the corner of Pavonia Ave. and Coles St.
“Never again,” will Paul Albasi mail checks through the mailbox at the corner of Pavonia Ave. and Coles St.

— the News