Jim Beam column:Mailing checks complicated

Published 7:03 am Saturday, December 23, 2023

Most of us never thought we would have to drive to the post office just to mail a check. Now, it’s being recommended by postal authorities.

The Associated Press in an October report said letter carriers were on edge after nearly 500 of them were robbed last year. Criminals increasingly targeted the mail to commit financial crimes like altering checks to obtain money.

The October report said law enforcement officials had made more than 600 arrests since May in a crackdown after carriers were accosted at gunpoint for their antiquated universal keys. Those are so called “arrow keys” to get access to mailboxes.

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To reduce robberies, the Postal Service has been in the process of replacing tens of thousands of those universal keys. Officials said 6,500 keys had been replaced so far with electronic locks in select cities, and another 42,500 are set to be deployed.

The service has also deployed more than 10,000 high-security blue boxes in high-risk locations to prevent people from breaking into them.

Of the 600-plus arrests made since May, more than 100 were for robberies while more than 530 were for mail theft. The good news is that the penalty for interfering with the mail is steep.

Theft alone can be punished by up to five years in prison. Possession or disposal of postal property carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Assaulting a mail carrier can also lead to a 10-year sentence for a first-time offense. Repeat offenders can get 25 years for an assault.

USA Today reported that complaints of check fraud reached around 300,000 in 2021 and jumped to 680,000 last year.

Citizens were advised to check their mailboxes every day and to use online or credit card payments when possible. If they are mailing a check or secure letter, they should take it to the post office or hand it directly to a letter carrier.

The experience of one couple is an example of what’s happening. Someone stole one of their checks and changed $136 to $936 and cashed it. Other people have lost thousands of dollars.

OK, now it’s online orders.

We never thought people would actually be stealing packages from our front doors (porch piracy) if we ordered something from Amazon or other online retailers. Now, we are advised we might want to have packages delivered somewhere else.

I tried that with a recent Amazon order and was advised there wasn’t a location near where I live.

Our cell phones that are an extremely convenient means of communication are being bombarded with devious text messages. Some of those messages say my iPhone is running out of space and I need some extra storage at a relatively low price. Just click on their link, they say.

I got one Friday that said, “Hey, it’s John here. I’m having a hard time delivering your parcel. Please fill in the missing details here (another link).”

Then there was this one: “You turned Auto-Scan Off on your device! 3 malicious files have been found since last Virus Scan. Enable Auto Scan now.”

Others tell me my cart is only half full and I need to check my order at a certain internet link. Another text said my $1,000 stimulus check was ready and all I had to do was click on a link. Still another said my food stamp card was increased and another link was recommended.

I got hooked on a computer scam a few years ago that ended up costing me over $500 for protection I didn’t really need. My computer locked up and I thought I was calling the iMac folks.

Each time the message says, “Don’t try to shutdown your computer.” I only took that advice the first time.

Once I got an email I thought was from Amazon asking me to update my credit information. I did the update, and you’re right, I had to get a new credit card. Now, we are being told to contact the source ourselves, which is good advice.

Finally, there are the never-ending mail solicitations.

I get gobs of calendars, nickels, dimes, some dollar bills, greeting cards for every occasion and other special gifts. They want you to feel guilty if you don’t respond to every request.

Yes, I do feel guilty each time I toss one of those letters with gifts into the trash can. However, I keep the nickels and dimes and try to mail back the dollar bills or set them aside while trying to figure out what to do.

Technology is wonderful, but it is certainly complicating our lives.

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