ELLSWORTH, Maine — A thief has left area residents in the hole for more than $2,400 after he stole checks from their mailboxes and used them in a buy-and-return scam at Home Depot, according to police.
Eight victims spread throughout Lamoine, Ellsworth and Trenton have had checks meant to pay bills stolen since late November. Three of those victims have had more than one check stolen.
Detective Dotty Small of the Ellsworth Police Department said the thief is still at large, but on Monday, she released images and video of the suspect using a stolen check at the Ellsworth Home Depot in hopes that someone will recognize him and call police.
In the meantime, Small has some advice for residents in the three towns: It may be time to pay bills online or over the phone.
“Do not put outgoing mail with checks in the mailbox,” she said Monday. “Go to the post office or pay in some other secure way.”
The thief, according to police, has been using the ill-gotten checks by crossing out the intended recipient’s name and writing “Home Depot” on them to buy goods. Small said he uses the victim’s initials to “validate” the change and presents a different fake ID with every purchase.
Then, the thief takes the goods back to the Bangor Home Depot and returns them for cash.
Home Depot, like many other large retailers, uses automatic electronic withdrawal for checks, Small said. So the stolen checks are run through a scanner, processed immediately and, often, given back to the thief.
Small said the thief keeps the register clerks distracted while they process the transaction.
“From the video, it looks like he’s pretty smooth,” Small said. “he keeps the clerk talking as they process the checks.”
Small said she’s worried the thief may hit the streets looking for free money again soon. On Sunday, his scheme was foiled when a stolen check was denied at the Ellsworth Home Depot, Small said.
“If some of the checks that he’s got aren’t being cashed now, then he’s probably going to go steal more,” she said.
Small said she’s been in regular contact with Home Depot, which has provided the police department with video of each transaction. She said the company has increased training for cashiers and told their employees to be on the alert.
In the meantime, Small hopes the video and photos released Monday will help nab the thief.
“I’m optimistic we’ll catch the guy,” she said. “I have a lot of video, and someone’s got to know him.”
Police are asking the public to help solve this case. If you have any information, contact Detective Dotty Small at 667-2168 or anonymously at 669-6614.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.
This story has been corrected. Victims of the check theft reside in Ellsworth, Lamoine and Trenton, not Hancock.