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Thieves targeting checks placed in mailboxes across Baton Rouge
BATON ROUGE - United States Postal Service mailboxes are being targeted in a check-washing scheme that is now widespread in Baton Rouge. One man tells 2 On Your Side that a lot more needs to be done to protect the mail.
As a small business owner, Jerry Mayer visits the downtown post office monthly, writing and mailing checks to various vendors. His business, Hometown Productions, was caught up in a check-washing scheme in December. He says he dropped off a handful of checks about 30 minutes before mail pickup in a blue box outside the downtown post office and didn't think anything of it. That is, until he got a call from Wells Fargo.
"I got a call saying someone has stolen your checks," he said. "I go, 'what are you talking about?'"
Mayer says after he put those checks into the mailbox, someone stole them and then washed them. They erased the name of the person or business written on the "pay to" line and wrote in their own name, cashing it at the bank. Mayer says they then tried to deposit the same check a second time and that's when they got caught. It created a massive headache for Mayer and his business.
"We had to close our account, we had to get affidavits, we had to get things notarized," he said. "We lost nearly $4,000 because of it."
There were a lot of phone calls and time spent tracking everything down. He quickly learned he wasn't the only victim.
"When we talked to the bank, they said, 'well, this is happening nationwide,'" Mayer recalled. "It's a major problem."
The experience has made Mayer question a lot of things, including why it's so difficult to get answers from the post office.
"I doubt anyone went there with a wrench and 30 minutes before closing time stole the checks," he said.
Blue mailboxes at Perkins Road, Millwood Drive, and Florida Street post offices have all been compromised. At least one person, Infiniti Monae Rogers, is facing charges in the case. She has since bonded out. Law enforcement is looking for two more suspects.
"When you don't have confidence in the post office getting your mail out to your vendors, you got a big problem," Mayer said.
The USPS says their collection boxes have strong security measures in place, but thieves use a variety of methods and tools to get past them. USPS would not reveal what those methods were in this case. USPS did confirm that none of the three suspects work for or have previously worked for the postal service.
USPS says mail theft often occurs overnight. Inspectors recommend people drop off their mail before the final collection time of day, which is displayed on the box. Again, Mayer says he did this.
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