Somerset police warn of uptick in ‘mailbox fishing’ scheme

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SOMERSET, Mass. (WPRI) — Somerset police are warning residents to be careful what they put in the mail after thieves stole tens of thousands of dollars by going “mailbox fishing.”

According to Chief George McNeil, two suspects were caught several weeks ago fishing envelopes from the collection boxes outside the town’s post office.

Roughly $42,000 was stolen, McNeil said, adding that it’s not just happening in Somerset.

“It’s a multi-million-dollar business and it’s involving international people from other counties as well as gangs,” he explained.

McNeil said there’s been an uptick of reports of this scheme in the area.

“They’re just branching out everywhere, and now they’re moving out of New York City and New Jersey area because they’ve installed a lot of anti-fishing mailboxes down there,” he said.

When crooks go fishing in mailboxes, they’re typically looking for checks being sent to pay bills.

“The checks were washed. A different payee was written in with a different amount of money,” McNeil explained. “They were able to retain the signature of the person who wrote the check, and just wash the amount and payee off the check.”

McNeil suggested taking these steps to prevent falling victim:

  • Go inside the post office and hand your letter to a postal worker.
  • Use gel pen when writing out checks, because it’s harder to wash off.
  • If you can, pay bills online instead of mailing out checks.

McNeil said mailbox fishing is a growing problem and Somerset detectives are working with police across Massachusetts and Rhode Island to try and put a stop to it.

“At least one of the suspects we arrested, police departments all over the Massachusetts were looking at this particular individual for doing this in other locations,” McNeil added.

Stephen Doherty, a strategic communications specialist with the U.S. Postal Service, said the USPS is in the process of replacing its collection boxes around the country “with an updated version that will only accept mail up to ½” thick.”

“This is being done as part of our Aviation Security Program,” he wrote in an email to 12 News, adding that there’s no timeline yet for the completion of that work.

Doherty said the USPS is also working with law enforcement to prioritize locations where “fishing incidents” have occurred.

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