Postal service inspectors crack down on mailbox fishing

The United States Postal Service has experienced a rash of “mailbox fishing,” in which thieves steal letters from mailboxes, find checks, and then alter and cash them.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and crime doesn’t stop there,” said US Postal Inspector Glen McKechnie. “They all use the darkness. They go at night when the streets are empty and no one is outside, and that’s when we find they go on their fishing expeditions.”

A New Yorker confronted a man who was said to be fishing for mail by apparently slipping his sticky-coated belt through the narrow mailbox slot. When she filmed him with her phone and yelled at him to stop what he was doing, the man continued and replied that he didn’t care that he was on camera before he drove off on a moped.

The New York City Police Department has posted signs on some blue mailboxes warning people not to mailbox fish.

“Send a check or money in the mail? Beware of Mailbox Fishing!” reads the signs, explaining that people should “put mail with checks directly to the post office”.

Earlier this year, a ring blamed for the theft of more than $100,000 worth of checks was busted; Another suspect was caught with checks worth $84,000 in September. US Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s campaign of New Hampshire had fished two checks valued at $21,583 out of a mailbox; and in August, police in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, arrested two teenagers for allegedly stealing and altering $250,000 worth of checks from mailboxes.

USPS workers on New York street.
The USPS has steps that can be taken to help keep people’s packages from being fished.
Getty Images

Isabel Vincent said two checks she once mailed were fished out of a box, altered, and cashed for more than $1,500.

“Will we see a world where mailboxes have disappeared? I mean, that would be very sad,” she says.

Vincent’s checks were tampered with by someone washing out the payee and writing a different name and then cashing the checks. Though her bank eventually reimbursed her for the loss, she says she now makes sure to only mail checks or pay electronically.

“Don’t tick the box. Go to a post office in person,” she advises. “It’s a bit of extra time, and you don’t have the convenience of doing it in front of your work place where I used to do it, but at least you know that you have a level of confidence in your check getting it there.”

McKechnie advises people to post their mail close to the box pickup time so letters don’t sit in a box overnight when most of the fishing takes place.

“Every blue collection box on the street corner has a time on it when the box is swept. We ask customers to put the mail in the mailbox before the pickup time. If the mail is left in this box overnight, it could be stolen.”

Postal worker loading USPS truck.
The United States Postal Service is taking action to minimize fishing.
AFP via Getty Images

Postal service inspectors are cracking down on the practice and have taken steps to make postbox picking more difficult. Thousands of boxes have been retrofitted to remove the old swinging door to narrow the letterbox. Although this has led to a decrease in thefts, they still continue. McKechnie says if you think you were a victim the police should be contacted.

“We’re working with counties to gather this information,” he says. “We are the postal inspection service. We need to instill confidence in the Post. These boxes are secure and we would like the message to be mailed before this final collection time.”

Fishing has expanded to include armed robbery. Last month, a Chicago postman was robbed at gunpoint for his mailbox key, giving thieves access to mailboxes containing bulk mail. In Santa Monica, California, thieves broke into mailboxes to steal their contents.

“If you’re sending a check, look at your bank statements. Make sure the check was deposited or the right person deposited the check,” said McKechnie, adding that victims should report any theft to police and the Postal Control Service. Postal service inspectors crack down on mailbox fishing


JACLYN DIAZ is a USTimeToday U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. JACLYN DIAZ joined USTimeToday in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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