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AVON LAKE, OHIO (WJW) – An unusual spike in stolen checks from mailboxes has several police departments reminding residents to be vigilant about check washing thefts.

The United States Postal Inspection Service describes the scam as incidents where payee names and dollar amounts are changed and fraudulently deposited.

“There has been an uptick in this type of case around the Greater Cleveland area,” said Avon Lake Detective Justin Ludwig about stolen checks. “It appears those mailboxes were targeted because their red flags were up and people knew there was mail in the mailbox.”

A police report shows an Avon Lake victim reported a check written for more than $14,000 stolen.

According to the police report, the victim witnessed a man drive up and take the item from the mailbox. The report states police stopped a man from Georgia shortly after in connection with the theft but could not locate the stolen check.

“These criminals can be pretty savvy,” said Ludwig. “They can do different things once they receive your check. They can make a fraudulent check with the same numbers that are on the check or they can even try and wash out certain parts of the check, who the check is paid to, the amount that’s on there.”

In a social media post, Westlake police confirm similar mailbox thefts and advise residents to use a gel ink pen that permeates the check fibers, never leave blank space on the payee or amount lines of checks and review bank statements and report fraud quickly.

To combat this crime of opportunity, police remind residents to take mail of value directly to the post office or pay bills online.

“In this day and age, you need to take the extra steps to make sure you’re safe and you’re not going to be victimized,” said Ludwig.