BOCA RATON, Fla. — Boca Raton police and inspectors with the U.S. Postal Service are investigating a check washing and mail fraud scheme that's left people all over Boca Raton out tens of thousands of dollars.
Most people feel safe leaving their mail, which sometimes includes money, in USPS collection boxes.
But many people in Boca Raton have been avoiding them for months now.
"Nobody's really been doing anything," John Haberlein told WPTV.
For him, it started late last year when he dropped off a check made out to Florida Power & Light for $20.24 at the postal service collection box on Palmetto Park Road.
"I was shocked when I opened the bank statement and there was $9,300 missing," Haberlein said.
Someone washed the check and Haberlein lost nearly $10,000 from his bank account, hitting his small business hard.
"I'm a building contractor, do mostly remodeling," he said. "So we need the cash flow because we're constantly buying materials and paying out labor."
Turns out, it wasn't an isolated incident.
Haberlein got on his Nextdoor app and discovered dozens of comments from people all over Boca Raton, saying the same thing happened to them at the same collection box.
"We always use this mailbox because we go to Dunkin' Donuts in the morning on the way to work and never thought there would be a safety issue," Eileen Rodgers said.
Rodgers told Contact 5 she lost $2,000 after dropping a check at the Palmetto Park Road collection box last year.
"Just to be safe, we stopped putting anything in there that had a check or gift card or anything valuable," she said.
USPS recently replaced the box. It now has a thin slot — as opposed to a pull-down handle — for easy access.
"I always thought by putting it in the blue box, it would be safer than somebody taking it out of my mailbox," Jeff Brader said.
Across town, Brader's account was also wiped clean in recent months at a different collection box. He put two checks in the box at 1640 NW Second St.
Someone added numbers in front of a much smaller amount, leaving him now out $30,000.
Brader told Contact 5 that the Boca Raton Police Department is investigating more than 50 cases like his. Police couldn't confirm the exact number, but both police and inspectors with the USPS told Contact 5 they are investigating numerous cases and have been for months.
Unlike both Rodger and Brader, Haberlein still hadn't received a single penny back from his bank, leaving him trying to recoup what he lost for months.
"Just gotta check the bank account every day now," he said.
WPTV called TD Bank, who provided the following statement Wednesday:
"At TD Bank, protecting the security of our customers' accounts is a top priority and we take the issue of check fraud very seriously. We investigate each reported case to determine the facts and take appropriate action for our customers. If the check impacts a TD customer and was negotiated at another bank, we follow regulatory guidelines and industry practices while working with that financial institution on our customer's behalf. The time frame for resolving fraud cases at TD Bank may vary depending on the circumstances including when the check was deposited or cashed at another bank. Due to privacy concerns, we cannot publicly discuss the account activity of specific customers. However, we can tell you that we have achieved a positive resolution for the customer in this case."
If anyone needs to mail a check, the USPS suggests putting it in one of their collection boxes before final pick up or bringing it inside the post office.
USPS also reminds customers to never leave mail in a personal mailbox overnight.