New twist on check fraud: same name, different victims

by Tom Beck
Posted 7/20/22

Five more readers who experienced mail theft and bank fraud contacted the Local last week - one of whom said he only discovered the fraud because he had been following our coverage of the issue.

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New twist on check fraud: same name, different victims


Five more readers who experienced mail theft and bank fraud contacted the Local last week - one of whom said he only discovered the fraud because he had been following our coverage of the issue. 

Rodney Finalle told the Local that he had mailed a $500 check to his niece in Western Pennsylvania for her graduation in late May. After having read stories about check fraud in the Local, he got suspicious when he noticed that it had been cashed a mere 48 hours later.

“I was like, ‘How’d it get out to Western Pennsylvania that fast?’” Finalle said. “That seemed too quick for her to have gotten the check and deposited it.”

Finalle said he checked his bank account “and saw that the name had been changed from my niece’s to ‘Jamel Poindexter’ and deposited into a mobile deposit with Bank of America.”

If the check had been deposited a week later, he probably wouldn’t have noticed - and neither would his niece because he mailed the check as a surprise gift.

“She wouldn’t have known to look for the card,” said Finalle, who said he used the mailbox at the corner of Greene and Hortter Streets in Mt. Airy, and has since stopped mailing any checks via USPS.

Another of the five also had the name “Arianna Davis” written on her check - as did David Richardson, a fraud victim who the Local wrote about last week. She had written her $2,500 credit card payment to Bank of America and dropped it in the mailbox April 30 outside of the Chestnut Hill Post Office on Germantown Avenue. 

The amount hadn’t been changed, but the name was replaced. 

“The handwriting is exactly the same,” said the source, who asked that we not use her name. 

The source said she contacted the Local when she saw the image of Richadson’s washed check with Davis’ name on it in last week’s paper. She also said that TD Bank, which refunded her money, told her that they can’t tell if the check had been deposited with a teller, in an ATM or cashed. 

On the same day that she mailed the $2,500 check to Bank of America, she mailed a $90 check to Verizon to pay a bill that also was lost - but that check was never washed and deposited. “Verizon texted me saying ‘We never got your payment,’’ she said. “Somebody probably stole both of them and just didn’t bother with the $90.”

The three remaining sources who contacted us about mail theft also asked to remain anonymous. 

One, the owner of a local geriatric care management company, said she wrote four checks totaling about $4,000 total to several of her social workers and nurses, and dropped them into the mailbox at Gravers Lane and Germantown Avenue on July 2. On July 14, when one of them told her they hadn't received the check, “I went online and saw they were altered,” she said. 

The handwriting in the payee lines was clearly different, she said. “You can see whatever they used to erase the original name. They also erased the line that’s below where you make the check out to.”

This source, who said she hasn’t yet gotten her money back from her bank, told the Local that she filed an affidavit of fraud and a complaint with the postmaster, closed her account and opened a new one. She also said she’s planning to begin using digital payment applications like Venmo or Zelle.

“I will not be using the postal system,” she said. “That’s for sure.”

Another reader said she wrote a check to the Internal Revenue Service on Jan. 8 of this year and mailed it soon after. In mid-March, she noticed a $1,000 debit from her checking account.

“I never ever debit either of my accounts for cash, so I knew that was fraudulent,” she said. 

She said she deposited the envelope in the Gravers Lane mailbox in mid-January before the deadline for fourth quarter taxes.

“Whoever’s leading this ring, or whatever it is, they know to look for envelopes addressed to the IRS and to the commonwealth and the city in those quarterly intervals.”

According to this source, TD told her that the money had been withdrawn from her account at another TD Bank location in Providence, RI. The offender used a withdrawal slip. 

“Somehow a check mailed in Chestnut Hill ended up in the hands of a woman who impersonated me at a TD in Providence, RI,” she said, adding that she suspects the offender must have had a fraudulent identification of some kind in order to get access to the money. 

The next source, a PNC Bank customer, contacted the Local late Friday afternoon, one day after she realized that only one of six checks she mailed on June 25 at the Germantown Avenue and Gravers Lane post office reached its destination. The one check that did make it to its destination was a payment to an insurance company, she said. The five that didn’t were all made out to banks. 

Of the five, one was written for $11.44 and never cleared. The other four, which were written for $1,000, $1,076.87, $138.20 and another for $1,000, were all washed and stolen. 

The source first noticed something was wrong when her bank called to tell her the mortgage payment was late, she said, which confused her because she had called the bank and was told the check had cleared.

“But then I pull up the check on the phone and sure enough the check is made out to someone I didn’t recognize,” she said. That’s when she realized she should check on the status of the other checks she wrote that day. 

All of the stolen checks had the box checked on the back for mobile deposit, she said.

The source said she went to the PNC branch in Chestnut Hill to discuss the fraud, but wound up leaving the branch when the teller asked her to repeat her account number out loud with other people around.

“The [customer service representative] was asking me about my information and the Allied Security guy kept pacing around,” she said. “She wanted me to recite my account number out loud. It was very cavalier. Because I felt violated, I just left.”

She later went to another PNC Bank location in Conshohocken, which she described as more helpful. The customer service representative there told the source she’d “probably” get her money back.

But they told her “we’re going to have to investigate it,” the source said. 

Going forward, this last source said she isn’t sure how she’s going to make her payments. She said she now understands the lack of security surrounding mailing checks, but isn’t convinced that digital payments are much better.

“I don’t like digital,” she said. “I feel like the security’s not there.”

George Clark, spokesperson for the Philadelphia Division of the Postal Inspection Service, told the Local that the division is “ doing everything in its power to combat these crimes,” but has not been able to provide a detailed answer about exactly what that is. 

He did say that the Philadelphia Division has approximately 60 inspectors and about 30 postal police officers and support staff who investigate crimes across the eastern half of Pennsylvania, the southern half of New Jersey and all of Delaware.