Jerks Often Steal Checks And Money Orders From Mailboxes

You probably already knew that, but like Shemika, you probably didn’t think it would happen to you.

Shemika Osborne is planning a party for her sister who’s getting married in Raleigh. Osborne is also the maid of honor. To pay for her bridesmaid dress, she mailed her sister a money order for $183 from her apartment.

“I walked to the mailbox, put my mail in there, dropped it in and then shut it up,” she said.

But the mailbox wasn’t locked, and someone stole the envelope and cashed the money order. Western Union sent her a copy of the money order. It showed someone had scratched off her sister’s name and put a different one on.

Osborne filed a claim with Western Union and Wachovia Bank where the money order was cashed. Wachovia wrote back blaming Western Union for taking four months to contact them about the forgery. Wachovia’s deadline is 48 hours. Neither would reimburse Osborne’s money.

‘They kept giving me the runaround back and forth, so I couldn’t get anything resolved,” she said.

We’d like to believe that just “scratching” someone’s name off the check and writing in another one wouldn’t work, but apparently it does. Thankfully, this sort of heartbreak can be avoided by mailing checks and money orders from a secure mailbox.

Woman Can’t Get Money Order Reimbursement [Action 9]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Buran says:

    This is why I always use a mailbox AT a post office if I have to mail something, only use USPS money orders (which makes it mail fraud if you scam me after I pay with one, and a federal crime if you commit other fraud with it), pay electronically as much as possible, and don’t leave vital mail in a mail slot where someone can take it.

  2. myuu says:

    Come on, in this day and age, use freakin’ PayPal

  3. ceejeemcbeegee is not here says:


    Yeah, stupid victim! Using the postal service to send a money order to her sister! Didn’t she know the bank will cash a random MO with the original name scratched out. Duh, it’s standard procedure!

  4. wring says:

    I generally side w/ customer as victims but in this instance it’s just plain negligence. If you’re sending something of monetary value, even a personal check, at least make an effort to conceal it.

  5. ATTSlave says:

    @Buran: Gracing us with your sunny disposition as always eh?

    It’s about time that banks change their policies to protect consumers. I don’t see why they won’t refund the money when it’s such a clear cut case of fraud.

  6. ceejeemcbeegee is not here says:

    @wring: How was she negligent? She put the MO in the envelope, and the envelope in the mailbox.

  7. slougi says:

    I think it’s insane that in the US money is routinely still moved around like this. I live in Finland, and no one I know has ever used a cheque or money order or anything like that, all financial transactions happen as wire transfers. You can pay those at special terminals that are located at banks and some shopping centers, or on the internet. But moving money around like this seems very alien to me, and downright backwards to be perfectly honest.

  8. PingPongDarts says:


    If anything like this had happened to her through Paypal, she would have been equally screwed as Paypal is NOTORIOUS for its unfair policies and foot-dragging. They are easily the worst internet company I have ever done business with and after searching the web I’ve found that I’m far from being alone.

    Basically, if you ever have a problem or dispute with a transaction made via Paypal, I hope you’re lucky enough to fall into their ever-shrinking “we’ll consider it” category–which is largely (and unfairly) predetermined before you even say a word.

    And yes, I know Paypal works just fine for plenty of people (it worked just fine for me when I used it). It’s just that once you start digging a bit you start to see the company’s true colors.

  9. humphrmi says:

    While she could have avoided this by using a secure mailbox, I think the point of this post is, given that the MO was stolen and fraud has occurred, Wachovia and Western Union are not doing their best to resolve what is clearly a case of fraud. (BTW Western Union’s web site says “you cannot make changes to a completed money order.” [] so it sounds like they’re not sticking to their own anti-fraud rules.)

  10. ChaosMotor says:

    Yeah, why should the post office be responsible for enforcing the federal crime of mail tampering? Or why should the bank be responsible of enforcing the federal crime of check fraud?

    It’s obviously the fault of the victim. How stupid of her to think that federal statues would be upheld, or that anyone would even give a shit that they exist.

    Doesn’t she know laws only apply to people who don’t have money?

  11. ShadowFalls says:

    The one who allowed it to be cashed is solely responsible. They are not allowed to accept money orders which have their name scratched off.

    If it is scratched off, it is considered void. If you had to change the name for whatever reason, you need to have the person who bought it turn it in and get it replaced.

    When sending a money order, go to the post office, if it is important enough, get confirmation or send it certified.

  12. Trai_Dep says:

    Did she put the envelope on the outside of her home’s mailbox, or did she place it inside those big PO bullet-shaped mailboxes on street corners? It’d make a difference.

  13. Trai_Dep says:

    (not her fault, but even less her fault if the latter, obv)

  14. Andrew says:

    I watched the video and they show the photocopy. That’s ridiculous! Any bank that would cash a money order where the recipient’s name has been so obviously scratched out ought to cough up the dough for their mistake.

    Plus, assuming the thief didn’t use a fake name, why aren’t they looking for the person who cashed it? Not only is it bank fraud, it’s mail theft. Get the Post Office involved here!

  15. wait…hasn’t she heard of paypal?

  16. damn, already beat.

    This kind of thing shouldn’t even be happening though. ANY sign of alteration on a check/MO should automatically void it altogether. Whoever allowed the MO to be cashed really needs to get their performance reviewed.

  17. d0x says:

    The “locked” mailbox’s in my apartment building seem to be broken. The way it works is the mailman has a key which lets him pull the top of the boxes out at an angle so he can drop the main in each instead of opening every mailbox.

    Well for some reason a few weeks ago the whole box was on the floor. Then quite a few times since its been left open so anyone could reach in the top of anyones mailbox and snag whats inside. Luckily nobody has swiped my netflix but it could easily happen. We have complained to try and get it fixed but who knows if it really has been.

  18. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    Why are people here suggesting PayPal? Just because you’re internet/tech savvy, it doesn’t mean everyone else in the world is.

    Mail theft is pretty common in apartment complexes. The mailboxes are usually located in an out of sight area where thieves can easily bust open the mailboxes and steal outgoing mail, particularly bills. Then they “wash” your checks and fill in the Pay To and the dollar amount to whatever they want.

    This story is just another reason why you should drop off outgoing mail directly at the post office.

  19. Leah says:

    That completely sucks for Shemika. I can’t believe the banks aren’t working harder here.

    But I do agree with others — this is why I only drop mail in secured mailboxes.

  20. P41 says:

    Putting mail in outgoing boxes like that ranges from unwise to really dumb, depending on the neighborhood. But that’s not this lady’s problem, it’s western union’s. Break out the refund policy lady, and take it to small claims court, it won’t be worth their time to even show up. If Western Union wants to duke it out with Wachovia over their obvious negligence, so be it. And what about the postal inspector/police? Are mail theft, fraud, and forgery not crimes any more, or just not worth the time to take down the new name written on the check and arrest them?

  21. Chicago7 says:

    A buddy of mine would have to show several IDs when he went to cash a check at the bank (this was before ATMS – I’m old). Somebody stole his checkbook and cashed two checks with the same tellers at the bank where he had to show several IDs.

    He looked at them and said “WTF?”

    Harris Bank in Chicago.

  22. kc2gvx says:

    As management in a bank, I would have held the teller responsible for cashing the MO. The amount would have been taken from his/her drawer, and towards their over/short goal. Tellers HAVE to check any negotiable instrument for 9 key points before cashing, or even depositing. I would have to see the “scratch out” job, but if it was obvious, then it would be a teller error.

  23. derobert says:

    She should also file a report with the Postal Inspection Service. Stealing mail is a federal offense. She can even report mail theft online. And contact the local police as well.

    Gotta love perps stupid enough to sign their name!

  24. missdona says:

    @slougi: Can come to Florida and explain to my 94 year old grandmother that she can’t write a check and that she has to go to the bank (or shopping center) to pay her bills? The internet is simply out of the question for her.

    She’s a great lady and all, but good luck with that one.

  25. Scuba Steve says:


    You could just do the same thing they did with pensions. Keep supporting the older clients, but freeze the new ones from using checks.

    Not that anything would change from getting rid of checks. People will just steal cc numbers more, and identity theft will be the big money maker.

  26. Buran says:

    @ATTSlave: What? I was giving some tips about how to avoid being a victim.

  27. Buran says:

    @ceejeemcbeegee: I didn’t say it was her fault. I don’t think it is. Sharing tips for avoiding becoming a victim doesn’t mean I’m blaming her for this.

    Sheesh, we’ve now gone from directly blaming victims to imagining that other people are blaming the victim when in fact they were not.

  28. slougi says:


    Interestingly 94 year old people do seem to get their bills paid over here. Even in the middle of the winter.

  29. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    @trai_dep: ‘Which mailbox’ would make a difference maybe to how difficult it would be to steal it, but even if it’s in my mailbox at the end of my driveway with the flag up, if you’re not the mailman (or me) and you take it, it’s a crime.
    And who posts here thinking that the victims will not take the brunt of the blame?
    “How stupid for this woman to expect that no laws would be broken in her general area.”

  30. kimsama says:

    @slougi: I guess that’s just because 94-year-olds in other countries are sooooo much smarter than 94-year-old Americans. That explains why Finland is a superpower. Wait, it’s not? /rolls eyes.

    missdona, I agree. My gramma is comfortable with checks, and can’t even figure out how to “turn the internet on” (actual quote ^_^). Banks have protections in place for both checks and transfers/internet banking. When the bank allows a fraudulent transaction, it’s not the customer’s fault for being old school.

    I also agree with the earlier suggestion that she take Western Union and/or the bank to small claims. It would help to know exactly what the terms of the account vis a vis fraud protection are supposed to be.

  31. Amry says:

    Dude, no worries, Action 9 will totally take care of this and bring Wachovia and Western Union to their knees. This was always my favorite part of the news on WSOC, and, interestingly, totally like having The Consumerist locally and on your TV. The thing I most remember about watching Action 9 is that the people always got their money back – even if the issue wasn’t the company’s fault.

  32. jydesign says:

    Here’s a somewhat related thing to keep an eye on: Last year someone appeared to have gotten into mail that had arrived, before we took it out of our box, and grabbed one of those horrible “Cash this $9 check now and get our free services for 30 days…” mailers. Someone cashed this check, and then I started seeing strange $100+ charges on my credit card. I had no idea that someone had signed us up for some mortgage protection service when cashing that check. Was able to get it reversed, but had I not been checking my statements carefully, this may have gone on for a few months. I’ve been trying to get all of these types of mailings stopped now…

  33. FLConsumer says:

    @kimsama: It depends what your definition of “superpower” is. If it’s the bigger is better/more is better/and most violent society, then yes, the USA would be the place. If you’re looking at things in terms of quality of life for its citizens, Finland does rank rather high, but that’s a discussion for another day.

    Seriously, checks have gone by the wayside in most countries. Considering they were first used by the Romans, yes, it’s time to retire this archaic and failure-prone form of payment. Most European countries use an ETF/Direct Deposit type transaction. It’s a bit different than our current ATM/debit cards in that the transaction is initiated by the payer rather than recipient. You’d receive a bill from your electric company, etc. with payment account #’s on it which you could wire money to. It’s very similar to ING’s Send Electric Check.

    I’m not sure what the future of checks will be in the USA, but I have a feeling they’re going to be around for awhile. The USA really doesn’t have an equivalent system in place to handle everyday ETF transactions. The ACH system is somewhat like it, but I don’t believe it’s up to the task of handling everyday transactions. Visa/Mastercard (especially the debit side) are capable of handling it, but there’s the whole transaction fee + transaction percentage that will prevent this from becoming the true replacement. It also still forces the recipient to handle the transaction.

    The ETF/Direct Deposit *IS* a better system. You’re in full control of your account, check kiting is eliminated, payments are credited immediately, and there’s no such thing as bouncing a check as you’re initiating it and it’s coming straight from your account. I’m not sure what it’s going to take for the USA to build such a system, but it will happen eventually, I hope.

  34. jrdnjstn78 says:

    My ex just sent me a money order through the mail last week sometime, he dropped it off at the post office. It hasn’t made it yet. I asked that idiot if he got insurance on it, he said no. He said he got a tracking number, then he said he has a return address on it. I just rolled my eyes. We’ll see if it comes. My mailbox is with everyone else’s where I live. I swear that someone tries to read my mail because i always find at least one with a half torn edge or some kind of damage.

  35. joeblevins says:

    Come on, did she wait 4 months? Wasn’t that a little long?

    She could have just gone to a payday advance storefront.

  36. mac-phisto says:

    @FLConsumer: the us has two systems in place to accommodate exactly what you’re talking about. ACH is most definitely capable of handling day-to-day transactions – it already handles millions of transactions daily. the problem is finding an ODFI that originates for you without a fee. some banks provide it as a service to business-class customers, but technically you are still paying for it in other monthly fees.

    funds can also be “wired” same day thru FEDLINE, but i doubt you will find an institution that accomplishes this task without a fee, so as long as you don’t mind forking over a few bucks or twenty, you’re golden. don’t european banks also charge for SWIFT transfers?

    these systems are not w/o fault either. they both require the receiver of the funds to release sensitive account information to the payer that could result in ID theft. furthermore, the payer has no recourse for recovery of funds that are sent thru FEDLINE. you have proof of the transfer, but the system does not allow reversal once the funds have been successfully transferred.

  37. Saboth says:

    Point is, unless you use a post office box and drop mail into secure containers, there is always a chance anyone can come by and go through your mail. I got a letter from Sprint the other day confirming my new bank account info (I called to have my checking account updated). So what do they do? They send me a letter with my checking account #, routing number and address printed in the letter, saying “if this isn’t right, call us”. Gee, thanks. And the letter had been torn open (by machinery at USPS or a person)? Who knows if someone has my checking account info now.

  38. kimsama says:

    @FLConsumer: Cash is also anachronistic. It’s not going anywhere for a long time, either. ^_^ It’s always great to have more options, but eliminating checks gives us fewer options. (P.S. everything I learned about Finland comes from the Great American Reach-Around, of course!)

    And mac-phisto, agreed. If you want to, you never have to choose to use a check. But if you do, they have security risks just like any other exchange of funds.

  39. thalia says:

    This happened to my mom when I was little. Someone (we suspected the mailman, he was pretty shady and ended up getting fired later that month anyways) took a child support check out of our mailbox and cashed it. My mom went to the bank and they claimed she had cashed it, and showed her the check (which had a signature on it that didn’t even remotely resemble the way her signature looks on her ID). They still refused to pay her for it though.