NEW ORLEANS — Outdoor post office boxes are being ransacked across Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes, hurting people who are simply paying their bills.
Criminals continue to steal mail from outside post office mailboxes, then alter the checks to steal cash for themselves. People are buying a master key on the dark web to open those boxes. They've even stolen one from a Baton Rouge postal worker.
Once they have the key, the mail in those boxes is stolen, including your checks. Your identity can be stolen from them as well. And those costly invitations to your wedding, that took days to address, can all be thrown in the trash.
“It's really terrible, you know, that you can't have the confidence to just pay your bills and just do the responsible thing,” actress Lin Gathright said.
Victims are losing large sums of money as theft from post office mailboxes has gone on for several months.
“I got an email from Capital One saying that the check I wrote for $8,776 was not clearing my account, because there were insufficient funds, and I knew I hadn't written a check for that amount,” Gathright said.
Gathright never thought just paying bills would mean fighting to recover $17,000 in stolen money and months of headaches.
“My Entergy bill was $776.65 and whoever stole the check put an '8' in front of that, washed off the 'Entergy,' made it out to them, tried to cash it twice in New Orleans,” Gathright said.
Because there were insufficient funds, it didn't go through in her account, but Lin's mom recently passed away. She is settling her estate and this time the criminals were successful with her late mom's account at a Baton Rouge credit union.
“I had written a check to my accountant, my mother's accountant for $885, and they had put an '8' in front of it and successfully cashed the check for $8,885.”
They were successful a second time putting a “9” in front on another check.
“I felt like I'm responsible for this, and I was in tears. I felt so violated and to tell you the truth now I'm really just so angry,” said Gathright.
Lin mailed those checks in the outside post office boxes on Louisiana Avenue. Another family lost nearly $15,000 after using a mailbox in the lakefront area. Yet another family lost $3,000 from boxes in Metairie on 17th Street. Last week the outside boxes on Johnson Street in Metairie were wrapped up. This week they are gone. Jefferson Parish Sheriff's deputies tell us they have arrested 10 people. Charges include bank fraud, forgery and theft. Federal authorities are cooperating with JPSO, but deputies would like to see federal charges as well. The post office inspector did not return our call.
“When I went to the bank they said this is rampant in New Orleans. It's been going on for months.”
You can mail your bills inside the post office or pay everything online on your bank app. Just enter in the name and address of all your payees and each month type in the amount you owe. The money is immediately, electronically transferred from your account to theirs.
And the reason the checks are altered to nearly $10,000, because transactions of that amount or more trigger mandatory reporting.