9 Investigates: Thieves can steal checks from the mail and sell them on the dark web

CHARLOTTE — Maybe you mail checks in your mailbox. Maybe you drop them in the big blue boxes around town.

Either way, thieves steal checks. Some “wash” them. In other words, they use chemicals to erase your ink -- so they can make the check out to themselves -- and change the dollar figure.

Others put them up for sale on the dark web.

There’s even a price list, like $120-150 for personal checks, $250 for business ones, and a deal if you buy in bulk: buy more than 100, and they’re just $80 each.

“The operation right now is huge. It’s very extensive,” Georgia State University criminologist David Maimon said. “It’s not a group of adolescents stealing your mail. We’re talking about organized crime groups who, at the end of the day, know exactly what they’re doing. They have people working with them on all of the key paces.”

He and his team at the Evidence-Based Cybersecurity Research Group were scouring the dark web for checks and came across ones from the Charlotte area.

They were meant to pay medical bills, utility bills, toll lanes, and even the U.S. Treasury, but they never got there.

So Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke went to each address to warn the victims. None would go on camera. But our sister station WSB-TV spoke with one of the Georgia victims, Gloria Daniel.

Daniel wrote a check for her water bill and mailed it. Just days later, it was for sale on the dark web. A thief washed her check and quickly cashed the fake version, making off with nearly $6,000.

“Otherwise I wouldn’t have put a check in [the mailbox] and I won’t put any more in there.” she said. “It’s like an invasion of my space and my peace because I’ve had to call Social Security. I’ve had to call payroll.”

Channel 9 has reported on several cases of stolen mail over the last year: thousands of victims, thousands of pieces of mail, and millions of dollars.

Stoogenke asked CMPD how many mail theft cases it had in a recent six-month period. It counted 14.

In previous news reports, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service told Stoogenke:

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s mission is to support and protect the U.S. Postal Service and its employees, infrastructure, and customers; enforce the laws that defend our nation’s mail system from illegal or dangerous use; and ensure public trust in mail. U.S. Postal Inspectors takes seriously its role to safeguard America and will continue to aggressively pursue perpetrators that use the U.S. Mail system to further their illegal activity. Every day, the U.S. Postal Service safely and efficiently delivers millions of checks, money orders, credit cards and merchandise. Unfortunately, such items are also attractive to thieves and that is why Postal Inspectors across the country are at work to protect your mail.”

Eight ways to protect yourself:

  • Pick up mail quickly. Don’t leave it in the mailbox for a long time.
  • If you can’t, use USPS’ hold service.
  • Drop mail in blue boxes close to pickup times.
  • Better yet, drop off mail inside the post office directly if you’re worried.
  • If you’re expecting money in the mail and don’t get it, don’t hesitate to tell the sender right away.
  • Don’t mail cash.
  • If you move, make sure everyone important has your new address.
  • Use gel pens to write checks. They are hard to erase, especially the uni-ball 207. You can get them almost everywhere and they’re pretty cheap, just about $2 each.

Click here for more tips.

If you think someone stole your mail, report it to the United States Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455.

(WATCH BELOW: Man pleads guilty in $200,000 bank fraud case after stealing checks from mail)