After thieves snatch mail, local checks for sale on dark web

Published: Oct. 28, 2022 at 4:09 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- A crime wave is hitting hundreds in the St. Louis region right now, and if you use the postal service, you might be the next victim.

Like many people, Robert Kenkel assumed the post office was the best place to drop his monthly checks. In front of the post office, you would think it would be. But he was wrong.

“As of today, I am still being violated at the banks,” Kenkel said.

Someone got into these blue collection boxes at the Chesterfield Post Office, making off with potentially hundreds of pieces of mail, including checks Kenkel had written.

“I was stunned, I was stunned,” said Steve Perron.

The same happened to him, whose wife had dropped their bills into this neighborhood blue box in Brentwood.

“I saw that and it really took my breath away for a second,” Perron said.

Someone had stolen from them.

“A $44 check to MSD had become an $8,300 check to an individual we don’t know,” Perron said.

It’s an old crime, coming around again, called check washing. Criminals can steal a check, change the information on it and the amounts, and cash it.

A former KMOV employee, Perron wanted us to know, he wasn’t alone. Police have said they are seeing an uptick and they think a ring is operating. It’s been a nightmare now to get his money back and change all his accounts.

“It makes me very, very angry that this happened,” Perron said.

“One check was $9,078, another was $3,200, another was $4,000,” Kenkel said.

In Kenkel’s case, he was being impersonated. He even has the images from a bank: someone had his social security number and birthdate too and was cashing checks as him.

“We are seeing a large number of checks coming from your area,” said David Maimon, a professor at George State University, specializing in cybercrime and the dark web.

He sent News 4 pictures of checks from the St. Louis region for sale on the dark web and for cheap too, $150 or so a pop.

“It’s a very sophisticated supply chain and it’s local,” Maimon said.

Letter carriers have been robbed recently, and experts say the thieves are often in search of easy-to-get mail or arrow keys, which open blue collection boxes.

“We know they are cashing the checks, washing the checks, selling the checks. We know they are forging checks, using the identities to open bank accounts, credit lines,” said Maimon.

The crime wave is hard to quantify in our area since the thefts are often reported to local police departments. Just for an example though, the City of Clayton said they’ve had 78 calls this year for mail thefts.

Frank Albergo is president of the national union for Postal Police.

“It’s a serious problem, it’s getting worse and worse by the day and quite frankly, the postal service and the inspection service are doing very little to prevent it,” said Albergo.

He told News 4 tips to consumers to avoid using the blue collection boxes seem strange to him.

“It’s similar to McDonalds saying don’t eat hamburgers, it’s a very strange model to be telling customers, not to use the postal service,” he said.

He said the problem’s made by a lack of postal police officers and says local departments are otherwise swamped.

“It needs to be addressed on all different angles, and it’s not being done,” Albergo said.

“That’s of the highest priorities of our agency is mail theft,” said Matthew Villicana, A US Postal Inspector based in St. Louis. He says they do take mail theft very seriously.

“Suffice to say, we are actively investigating things,” he said. “Theft is always an issue whatever industry you are in,” he said.

Though he couldn’t speak of specific cases, News 4 has learned of recent prosecutions.

Dwaundre Valley didn’t want to show his face after one court hearing. He’s accused of attempting to bribe postal employees to give up their arrow keys.

Tahj Boyd and James Townsend both told News 4 they were both innocent on charges that they stole mail.

But experts tell News 4, even with busts like these, check crimes aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

“It’s terrible that someone wants to scam somebody, go get a job,” said Kenkel.

Those already victimized want to warn others before dropping mail in the blue boxes.

“I have to rethink that, the way I handle business.” Kenkel.

The Postal Inspector’s office says consumers can really protect themselves. Walk your mail into the post office and don’t leave your valuable mail in a blue box overnight. You can drop it right before it’s collected.

When writing checks, you can use special paper or even easy-to-get ink. You can also stop writing checks and pay electronically, instead.

You can find more information, here.