LONG ISLAND - Long Island authorities are raising the alarm over so-called "check washing" scams, where thieves steal envelopes with checks inside from mailboxes and forge fake information on them to take the money.
Scammers will take the stolen checks and "wash" them in a simple bath of household chemicals, removing the original name and sometimes the dollar amount originally written on the check, before writing in new information.
For victims like Amit Aery, finding out about the theft could take weeks and cost thousands.
Last May, Aery mailed his property tax check for over $13,000 to Huntington’s Receiver of Taxes. But in a letter he received weeks later, he discovered that the check never made it there.
"Put it right in the blue box," he said. "I looked at the image of the check and that’s when I had my ‘oh my god’ moment. I’m sitting here 6 months after the fact and nothing resolved."
Thieves had changed the name on his check and made it out to "Erica Gomez."
Huntington Town Supervisor Ed Smyth says there have been dozens of similar scenarios.
"They’ll change the name of the payee on the check manually and then the thief will take that check and deposit it or cash it their own account," Smyth said. "It’s disturbing. It’s a financial crime getting a lot of attention."
There have also been check-washing scams in the town of Hempstead and in Islip, where officials changed the color and size of the tax bill envelope, so it’s less easy for criminals to spot.
As for Amit, who is still trying to get his money back from Chase, he shares this advice.
"My message is just go in person or pay it online," he said.
Victims of mail theft are encouraged by the USPS to file complaints as soon as possible. Officials recommend customers hand the mail directly to a clerk or use the collection box before the last pickup of the day, so it doesn’t sit overnight.