According to police, scammers looking to defraud residents out of thousands of dollars or steal their identities may now be using more than suspicious phone calls. Detective Lt. John Nagle of the Glen Cove Police Department said that criminals are using an unlawful activity known as “mail fishing” to obtain victims’ checks, cash and personal information from mailboxes.
Nagle explained that perpetrators look for traditional mailboxes, those with pull-down handles, and, using long sticks tipped with adhesive, they pull mail out of the chutes. “Mail fishers,” as Nagle called them, are looking for mail containing checks and personal information.
“If a check is fished out of the mailbox,” he said, “the criminals will alter the amount on the check, change who the check is made out to [and] have the check cashed. Many times, the victims don’t realize their mail or check has been stolen until they check their account, or the recipient of the mail notifies [the sender] that the item never reached them.”
The GCPD reported that six U.S. Postal Service mailboxes in Glen Cove may have been subjected to mail fishing over the weekend of May 18-20 (see box, Page 2). Police reported that an unidentified adhesive — a sticky, saplike substance, Nagle said — was found on the pull-down handles and inside the mailboxes’ chutes.
The GCPD reviews daily reports from the Nassau County Police Department, Nagle said, to keep tabs on mail-fishing incidents outside the city’s jurisdiction. Neighborhoods like Great Neck and Manhasset, he said, were “getting slammed with these types of crimes,” which occur mostly at night.
It is still unclear to local police who might be perpetrating these crimes, but Nagle said he believes the subjects are not from the area. He added that he would not be surprised if they were three or four people working together or someone acting alone.
According to a March 21 article in The New York Times, the U.S. Postal Service is replacing or retrofitting mailboxes in much of the Northeast to eliminate the pull-down handle in favor of a slender mail slot. The Times also reported that roughly 7,000 mailboxes in New York City and other parts of the tristate are being replaced, but there are no plans yet for a nationwide overhaul.
“Our post office mailbox in Glen Cove has been changed so these mail fishers can’t access it, but the post offices in Glen Head and Sea Cliff have recently had numerous checks fished out of those mailboxes,” Nagle said. “Those checks were subsequently altered and fraudulently cashed for thousands of dollars.”
The Glen Cove, Glen Head, Sea Cliff and East Norwich post offices have retrofitted their outdoor mailboxes to the slot-style design to discourage mail fishing. The Oyster Bay post office has three mailboxes, and one of them still has a pull-down handle.
Patrick Kelly, who has lived in Oyster Bay for 11 years, paused on Tuesday night before depositing his mail, choosing one of the newer mailboxes. He didn’t want to use the traditional box because, he said, he had seen mail get stuck in it. Kelly had not seen the new slot boxes before, and after using one, he said he wished he could be certain that his mail went through the narrow slot.
He hadn’t heard anything about mail fishing, he said, adding that he wasn’t surprised that it was happening. “People’s identities are so vulnerable,” he said. “I’m sure people don’t know that using a mailbox is another way to have their identities stolen.”
The Glen Head post office upgraded its mailboxes two months ago. A representative said that some residents had raised concerns about mail fishing in the past, and that the newer, slot-style mailboxes were more secure.
The Rev. Kim Wilson, of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Glen Head, lives just steps away from a USPS mailbox with a pull-down handle. She said she had used the slot-style boxes at the Glen Head post office, but had trouble depositing invitations for her daughter’s graduation. “At first I couldn’t figure out how to get the mail in,” Wilson said. “It’s much more difficult to get your hand in.”
She expressed concern about church donations getting stolen by mail fishers. “We get check donations through the mail, so we want to make sure those donations get to the proper place,” she said, “but we wouldn’t even know if they took it out of our mailbox.”
Glen Head resident Kristina Lacy also lives near a mailbox with a pull-down handle, which she said she uses about once a week. “We haven’t had any issues with that, but it’s concerning to hear,” Lacy said of the stolen mail. “Being knowledgeable about things that are happening in the surrounding communities will heighten our awareness, and we’ll be keeping a more watchful eye.”
Wilson said she also worried about senior citizens, who are more likely to use mailboxes to send checks than younger people, who make payments online. Nagle said he understood that the older population still relies on “snail mail,” which is why the department sends an officer to the Glen Cove Senior Center every few weeks to educate seniors about scams that may target them.
Nagel recommended that anyone who sees someone loitering near a mailbox late at night contact the Police Department. “These scams are developing every day,” he said, “and the internet is a valuable tool to find out what these scams are and how you can protect yourself. Making payments the old-fashioned way is not a bad thing; you just have to be careful.”
Laura Lane contributed to this story.