NEW ORLEANS — When people drop off the mail at the post office, they expect it to be delivered and, but that's not what's been happening in Gretna where thieves are stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars right out of the mailbox.
The mailboxes outside of the Gretna Post Office have been taped shut after some of the bills, letters and packages were never delivered.
Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson said his department started investigating the thefts in late December, and so far, 40 people had more than $200,000 worth of checks stolen out of the mailboxes, he said.
"We found that in some cases, the checks were washed where the name and the amounts were changed, deposited or cashed in other accounts," Lawson said.
The police chief said he believes someone has a key to the boxes, and that's how they have been getting inside. The case has been sent to the U.S. Postal Inspectors Office and the Department of Homeland Security.
"I only have a couple of checks a month I have to write — never thought anyone would steal the check out of the post office," said John Birdsong who lives in Arabi.
Several weeks ago Birdsong dropped a $424 check in a New Orleans post office mail drop for a car payment.
Two days after dropping off the check, he said he noticed something fishy.
"I went to check my bank account balance and noticed it was $3,000 short," Birdsong said.
His statements showed the check he sent for his car payment deposited to a stranger's account and for a much higher amount.
"Somebody obviously stole my check, washed it, rewrote it, and cashed it," Birdsong said.
"You have a forgery on your hands," said Mark Rosa, a finance professor at UNO and President of Jefferson Financial Federal Credit Union. "I think a check is particularly vulnerable. The technology is too old."
Fewer and fewer checks are being written and Rosa said that's a good thing.
"Who knows how many hands it passes through," Rosa said.
He recommends paying bills electronically as often as possible.
"We can pay our car loan online. You can pay your house online. We can pay another person online with Venmo and things like that," Rosa said.
Rosa said because checks aren't as reliable, banks put holds on them to make sure they clear.
"You just can't trust them. I just don't know what's going to happen to it, I don't know if it's going to clear. I don't know if there's any tampering going on," Rosa said.
Because of that hold and his quick action, Birdsong's money wasn't paid out, plus his bank quickly refunded him. He still doesn't know exactly how someone got his check, but now he's extra cautious.
"If I'm going to drop a check off at the post office, I at least take it inside," Birdsong said.
If you think your check has been tampered with, you can file a forgery claim with your bank.