Police, USPS taking steps to combat ‘mailbox fishing’

Consumer Investigations

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — You may have heard of phishing schemes where crooks use fraudulent emails to try and take your money, but Warwick police are warning about a “fishing scheme” involving standard mail.

Detective Sgt. Tom DiGregorio said schemers are essentially fishing through mailboxes in hopes of finding envelopes containing cash or checks, and it’s being reported statewide.

“The public needs to be vigilant and needs to be aware of this kind of criminal activity,” he said.

According to DiGregorio, the U.S. Postal Service has been working with Rhode Island State Police and other agencies to catch people going through mailboxes.

“The U.S. Postal Inspector’s Office is aware of this going on and they’re taking every step that they can to combat it,” DiGregorio added.

In an email to 12 News, U.S. Postal Inspector Emily Spera of the agency’s Boston division said, “The U.S. Mail remains one of the most secure means of transmitting personal information,” but admitted they deliver items that can attract thieves.

DiGregorio said so far this year, Warwick police have received 42 reports of mailbox fishing and made two arrests.

He said once criminals find a check in the mail, they alter them and deposit the money into a bank account.

“A lot of times, for these people who are victims of it don’t even realize it until their mortgage hasn’t been paid or their electric bill hasn’t been paid, then they realize that the check has been compromised,” DiGregorio explained.

DiGregorio advised reporting any suspicious activity seen around a mailbox.

“Get a good physical description of that individual, get their license plate number, contact your local police department,” he said. “Don’t get involved, but be a good witness.”

He also said it’s important to be aware of mail collection times.

“Have the mail sit there only for the shortest amount of time possible,” he said, suggesting it may be best to drop your mail off inside the post office during business hours.

U.S. Postal Service communication specialist Stephen Doherty said over the past year, the agency has been replacing mailboxes nationwide.

“The new mailboxes, with a slot that will only accommodate mail up to a half-inch thick, is actually part of our Aviation Security Program,” Doherty wrote in an email to 12 News.

He called replacing mailboxes nationwide a “daunting task” and said there’s “no set timeline for the completion of the upgrade.”

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