NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) – They stand outside the Green Hills Post Office, blue metal, the very symbol of mail security.
At least, that’s what one Nashville grandmother thought, dropping not one but three bill payments off in one of the collection boxes, thinking she was avoiding any potential thefts by avoiding placing the payments in her own mailbox and putting up the red flag.
Later, she checked her bank account.
More than $48,000 was missing.
An ongoing WSMV4 investigation has found it is part of a pattern of crimes financially devastating families in Nashville.
The Nashville grandmother, who asked that we hide she and her family’s identity because she is already a fraud victim, immediately called her son.
“For older people who have saved and scrimped and saved, this was kind of a shock,” her son said.
The family ultimately got copies of the three checks she’d written, and all had been altered to remove the names of the companies who should have been paid, and changed to three different names.
And the amounts were changed too, ultimately draining more than $48,000 from her account.
One of the checks was made out to a Lumarys Torres for $33,937.17.
“(My mother) actually had to go to the hospital,” her son said. “Doctors determined it was just from the stress of dealing with this.”
The family was battling with their local bank as well.
The checks were cashed out of Clarksville at a different bank, so the local bank argued it was that other bank’s problem to resolve and refund the family.
“You feel very helpless when you can’t find any answers,” her son said.
Then, her mother was watching WSMV4 Investigates, and saw our investigation that revealed another woman had dropped her bill for NES off at the collection box at the Green Hills Post Office, and had that payment changed to Lumarys Torres for $9,800.
“(My mother) was in utter disbelief,” her son said.
Tale of two defrauded customers
It meant two different Nashville women had dropped off their bill payments at the same location, and both had their checks intercepted and changed to be paid to a Lumarys Torres.
The fraud victim’s son said they immediately took the findings from our story to their bank, who reimbursed them in full.
“At the end of the day, we would like to find out who is doing this so people don’t experience the same nightmare,” her son said.
“Do you have frustration with the post office?” asked WSMV4 Investigates.
“Contacting the post office, they washed their hands and absolved themselves of any responsibility,” her son said. “There’s an illusion of security there.”
WSMV4 Investigates reached out to the US Postal Service, who referenced our questions to the local office of the US Postal Inspector.
“When our viewers will see this and ask if it’s safe to use this post office. What would you tell them?” asked WSMV4 Investigates.
A spokesman for the US Postal Inspector couldn’t do an interview, but responded in an email, reading in part, “Postal Inspectors are working with Metro Nashville Police Department to investigate thefts of mail reported by postal customers who deposited mail in the blue collection box in front of the Green Hills Post Office. These recent mail theft incidents are concerning to us.”
WSMV4 Investigates will continue to monitor developments in this investigation.
Below is the full email statement from US Postal Inspector, who gives tips on how to safely mail your payments at the post office.
Mail theft is a serious federal felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Postal Inspectors are working with Metro Nashville Police Department to investigate thefts of mail reported by postal customers who deposited mail in the blue collection box in front of the Green Hills Post Office.
These recent mail theft incidents are concerning to us, and we are asking for the public’s help in resolving them.
IF YOU SEE SOMEONE SUSPICIOUS LURKING NEAR A MAILBOX OR SEE SOMEONE STEAL MAIL, call police immediately, then report it to Postal Inspectors at 877-876-2455 (say “Theft”).
IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR MAIL WAS STOLEN (even if you did not see it happen), report it immediately by submitting an online complaint at www.uspis.gov or by phone at 877-876-2455.
PROTECT YOUR MAIL FROM THIEVES
Every day, the US Postal Service safely and efficiently delivers millions of checks, money orders, credit cards, and merchandise. Unfortunately, these items are also attractive to thieves, and that’s why Postal Inspectors vigorously work to protect your mail. With deliveries to more than 163 million addresses each day, we cannot do the job alone. Here are some proactive steps both individuals and business can take to protect their mail from thieves:
1. Don’t leave delivered mail or outgoing mail unattended. Just as wallets and purses shouldn’t be left on the front seat of an unoccupied car overnight, mail and packages shouldn’t be left uncollected in mailboxes or on front porches for any length of time. And when outgoing mail is placed in a blue collection box, take note of the collection times posted on the box. As a best practice, mail should not be deposited after the last collection of the day or during Sundays or federal holidays.
2. Hand outgoing mail to your letter carrier or mail it inside the Post Office. This will keep the mail from sitting unattended.
3. If you do not receive a check or other valuable mail you’re expecting, contact the sender. If they sent it, but you have not received it, report it to the Postal Inspectors.
GUARD AGAINST IDENTITY THEFT
The US Mail remains one of the most secure ways to transmit personal information. In fact, electronically stored personal data is compromised with greater frequency, and a single compromise can result in the loss of large volumes of personal data. As of January 2022, the website privacyrights.org reported that over 11.7 billion records have been exposed in over 9,000 data breaches since 2005. These incidents demonstrate the type and variety of identity crimes facing us today.
However, Postal Inspectors do investigate crimes involving criminal use of the mails. When paying for goods or services by check, Postal Inspectors recommend the following practices to guard against fraud:
1. Reconcile your accounts at least monthly. Verify the checks you have written against your account statements and contact your bank immediately if you notice a discrepancy.
2. If you sent a check to someone who never received it, contact your bank and stop payment on the check.
3. If you identify a fraudulent transaction connected with your checking account, contact your bank immediately and consider closing that account to prevent further fraud.
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