ELLSWORTH, Maine — Local police are alerting people that checks are being stolen from residential mailboxes and have been used to purchase items at a local home improvement store.
Detective Dotty Small of the Ellsworth Police Department said Monday that she knows of six people in Ellsworth and Trenton who had checks taken in November and December. In all six cases the checks ended up being used at Home Depot in Ellsworth, she said.
The total amount of money that the checks were written for is approximately $1,600. The checks were written to pay bills and left in residential mailboxes for rural mail carriers to pick up. Small said raised pick-up flags on mailboxes might have alerted the thieves where to look.
“One guy had two [checks] taken,” the detective said.
Instead of being picked up by mail carriers, the checks were taken by someone else and then were presented for payment for items at the local Home Depot, according to Small. Small said at least one check for around $400 was used to pay for a specially ordered item that later was returned for cash. She said other items may have been returned later for cash, but that Home Depot does not keep detailed enough records to determine whether they were.
Multiple attempts Monday to contact Home Depot officials who could comment on the matter, both in Maine and at the corporate offices in suburban Atlanta, were unsuccessful.
According to Small, any check used for payment at the store is handed to an employee who then runs it through an electronic reader, which then transfers the money from the checking account for payment.
“It’s just like using an ATM card without your [personal identification] number,” Small said.
She said some of the checks seem to have been altered in some way, including one that was written for $72 and then changed so the amount that appeared on the check was $416.
Small said the thefts have occurred over the past two months. The most recent instance involves a check taken on Dec. 23 and used at Home Depot on Dec. 26, she said.
Whoever is taking the checks may not appear suspicious to passersby because rural mail carriers often use their personal vehicles to deliver and pick up mail, Small said, and sometimes are hired just for the busy holiday season.
She said anyone who sees a person in a suspicious vehicle taking mail from a residential mailbox should try to get a license plate number and contact Ellsworth police.
Small said people should use secure mailboxes to mail out checks and should keep track of their accounts through bank statements or websites.
She said some of the victims didn’t realize their checks had been stolen until they received late payment notices in the mail.
“And then your bill is not paid either,” she said.
The detective said Ellsworth police will contact U.S. Postal Service inspectors about the thefts, but she is not sure if anyone might end up facing federal criminal charges. She said she is trying to obtain security video footage from Home Depot to see if they can identify who might be using the checks.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.