TAMPA (WFLA) — Tampa Police are warning the public about a dramatic increase in stolen checks being fraudulently cashed across the city.
“Check washing,” as investigators call it, is when suspects steal a check and expertly doctor the recipient and amount to cash it for themselves.
According to TPD, thieves are most often obtaining checks by stealing them from residential mailboxes.
“So now the check you wrote for $148 to pay your power bill is a check for $1,480 written out to the defendant,” explained TPD spokesperson Steve Hegarty.
Hegarty said the agency has seen the uptick over the last 3-4 months. Usually, it takes victims weeks if not months to realize what happened.
TPD recommendations always dropping checks in a USPS dropbox, never leaving them in your own mailbox to get picked up.
“Not a lot of people are writing letters to each other anymore, so I think it’s really pretty obviously when you raise that red flag,” Hegarty said.
Some check washers get caught, like Stephon Tisdale, who was arrested after investigators say he stole and then fraudulently cashed a $1,000 check intended for the Hillsborough County Tax Collector.
However, many suspects are not caught.
“It used to be that you could trust when you’d raise that red flag, your mail would be safe,” Hegarty said. “We would urge people not to do that.”
While TPD has seen a spike in mail theft and check washing, investigators aren’t sure the reason behind the increase.