“The United States Postal Inspection Service is committed to protecting the nation’s mail system from criminal misuse. Pursuant to federal law, victims are entitled to certain rights, which include notification of the status of the investigation. This letter is to inform you that you have been identified as a possible victim of alleged mail theft.”

This is the opening statement of a letter I received in December 2023. The next day, I received a second letter from a USPS inspector that said:

“Postal Inspectors found evidence that your name, address, and other personally identifiable information was in the possession of a fraudster. We do not know how they initially obtained your information, only that they possessed it.

I believe you may be a victim of this scheme, and I need to speak with you.”

And sure enough, they were right. Someone, who is now in jail, stole mail that contained a check I had written and then used that information to make a new check with my signature that they successfully used to take more than $30,000 from one of my accounts.

Here is what I have learned from this terrible situation:

  • One of our custodial partners (Schwab) has our back. They have a team of people who work on the client’s behalf to make victims whole.
  • Check fraud is on the rise. A nationwide alert regarding a surge in check fraud schemes targeting the U.S. mail has been sounded. 
  • Even as fewer paper checks are circulating, check fraud is increasing—by 84% in 2022 alone. The alert (from FINCEN Financial Crimes Enforcement Center) focused on reports of fraudsters stealing checks from public USPS Collection Boxes, then changing the dollar amount and recipient. This scheme is sometimes combined with identity theft.
  • The Postal Inspection Service is working to secure these collection boxes further. 

What can we do to protect ourselves?

  1. Use an electronic payment method instead of a paper check (e.g., ACH) whenever possible. (MoneyLink), bill pay or, if needed, a wire).
  2. If you’re expecting a check for a significant dollar amount, request a direct deposit into your checking account versus a physical check in the mail.
  3. Take your mail into the post office versus dropping it into an outdoor USPS collection box. If you must use a collection box, drop it in before the final scheduled pickup to ensure it doesn’t sit in the box overnight when criminals target these boxes. Please note, even this is not a guarantee, as we have a client who was also a victim of check fraud after delivering a check inside the post office.
  4. Monitor your bank account online and verify check images to ensure all checks have been properly deposited.
  5. Consider signing up for the free USPS Informed Delivery service, which the post office uses to send you electronic previews of upcoming mail.
  6. Report any fraud and suspicious activity to us immediately.

I share this with you to be helpful, and I hope you find reassurance in knowing that there are systems in place should you become a victim of identity theft, mail fraud, and check fraud. My situation was remedied, and I’m thankful for the support and professionalism I have experienced with the USPS Inspection Service and Schwab’s fraud team.

If you have questions or want to talk, feel free to call, email, or try texting us, as mentioned in last month’s post here.

Hill Investment Group