Kennebunkport police are making residents and business owners aware that thieves are on the prowl, raiding mailboxes looking for outdoing checks, which they then copy, alter, and cash. Tammy Wells photo

KENNEBUNKPORT – Police here are letting residents and business owners know that there have been thefts of checks from outgoing mail in recent days, and in at least one case, the theft resulted in the loss of a substantial sum.

It happens when people put outgoing mail in a residential or business mailbox. Thieves look for mail addressed to vendors that are likely to have a check inside, steal it, alter the check, and then cash it, said Kennebunkport Police Chief Craig Sanford.

The simplest way for criminals to find mail to steal is to look for mailboxes with a raised flag, which often contain bill payments with personal checks included, according to AARP Fraud Watch.

Some alterations are called “check washing” by the United States Postal Inspection Service.

Checks are stolen from mailboxes and “washed” in chemicals to remove the ink, re-written and then used, the postal inspection service said in a news release. Check washing scams involve changing the payee names and often the dollar amounts on checks and fraudulently depositing them, the service said

Sanford said thieves make copies of the checks and then cash them.


He said in one recent incident in Kennebunkport, the check owner lost “thousands of dollars” through mail theft.

It is not the first time such scams, including mail theft, have made their way to Kennebunkport. Sanford, in a telephone interview late last week, said a couple of years ago, thieves would go through mailboxes after the day’s mail had arrived, looking for credit card company offers for new cards. Thieves would take them, apply for the card, and when it arrived go on a spending spree.

Check washing activity has been around for many years. In 1998, the Associated Press reported a gang of thieves in Miami dunked checks swiped from mailboxes into an ink-removing solution, rewrote them and netted $600,000. In all, 175 victims lost money in that fraud.

An online search for reports of check washing and check theft turned up numerous news stories from across the nation in 2022, all indicating the practice is ongoing.

Law enforcement in neighboring communities said they have not had any reports of theft from mailboxes.

A spokesperson for York County Sheriff’s Office, which patrols Arundel, said as of Jan. 19, no mail thefts had been reported in that community.

Lt. Chris Russell of Kennebunk Police said by phone that day that is not to say there haven’t  been incidents, particularly  since Kennebunkport is close by,  but at that juncture, none had been reported to their agency.

Kennebunkport police  are recommending people check their financial activity regularly, do not leave mail in their mailbox overnight and report theft to authorities.

“It might be worth your while to take checks to the post office, and if you live in a rural area, buy a locking mailbox,” Sanford said.

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