ELLSWORTH — Police are investigating a rash of checks reported stolen from local mailboxes and later cashed at Home Depot.
Detective Dotty Small said five individuals have reported a total of seven checks stolen from their outgoing mail in the past two months. The checks were originally intended to pay monthly bills, such as credit cards, satellite TV and a student loan.
All seven of the checks were found to have later been cashed at Home Depot on Myrick Street. Small said information from store employees suggests the person who is using the checks is a man.
The purchases are all being recorded as electronic funds transfers. Small said this means the check is read by a machine, and then handed back to the customer (and alleged thief).
Because of this, Small said, police do not know exactly how the checks are being altered.
In some cases, the alterations are very small. One check was originally made out for $175.43, and then rewritten at Home Depot for $175.33.
In such cases, Small said it may be easy for the theft victim to overlook the discrepancy when looking at the account balance.
In other cases, however, the discrepancy is quite large. One check was originally made out for $72.20, and then rewritten for $416.85.
Though at least some of the checks are believed to have been stolen as far back as around Thanksgiving, some people are not noticing until recently when they are checking their financial statements or getting late fees for bills they thought were paid.
Other people have discovered the problem sooner because they do online banking and can view their transactions there, something Small recommends.
Whether an individual prefers paper records or favors seeing things on a computer screen, Small’s advice is the same.
“Check you bank statements,” she said.
Her other piece of advice so that others can hopefully avoid falling victim to this tactic is to mail any bills from the post office rather than the roadside mailbox.
Small said police are in the process of obtaining video from Home Depot, which they hope will shed more light on the case.
People whose checks have been stolen have had to close out their accounts and start new ones, because whoever is stealing the checks has access to their routing and account numbers.
Some people have additionally had to close out their credit card accounts, because the check thief has also had access to those numbers.
Anyone who discovers any unauthorized activity on their checking account and believes one of their checks may have been stolen should contact their bank and also call Small at 667-2168.