The big blue collection mailboxes that dot the American landscape long have been a source of convenience for those who want to mail something without driving all the way to the post office.
But in the modern age, the price for such convenience might be too high to pay.
When you slip your mail into a blue collection box, you’re taking the chance that letters, bill payments and other correspondence might be stolen.
It recently happened to a woman in Denver. After Kathleen Bailey dropped a bill payment into a blue box, the envelope — along with her check — was stolen. The thieves “washed” her check by removing the ink with a solvent, rewrote the amount to $5,000 and cashed it.
Such incidents are not as rare as you might think. In April, the Washington Post reported that thefts similar to the one that targeted Bailey — checks being stolen from blue boxes, then washed and cashed — have surged across the U.S.
Fortunately for Bailey, her bank — Chase — flagged the transaction as suspicious, so she didn’t lose any funds. But she told a local television station that she learned an important lesson:
“When I went to report the incident to Denver police, they said it’s a huge problem and every day they get two or three of these complaints and this was just down at district three. I’m not going to ever use a [United States Postal Service] blue box again, never. And if anything, I’m going to take it into the post office and mail a check or a letter.”
Bailey’s instincts appear to be sound. One of the best ways to avoid becoming a victim of check washing is to bring important mail directly to your local post office branch.
Failing that, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service suggests that you only put outgoing mail in a blue collection box prior to that day’s last pickup.
The USPS also says you should never leave mail in your own mailbox overnight and you should have your mail held — or arrange to have it picked up by a friend or neighbor — when you go on vacation.