ATLANTA — Your personal checks may be for sale on the dark web, just hours after you dropped them in the mailbox.
It’s a crime that’s been growing dramatically in recent months across Georgia.
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Channel 2 Consumer Investigator Justin Gray knocked on DeKalb County resident Gloria Daniel’s door out of the blue with an unpleasant surprise.
“Yep, that’s my check,” Daniel confirmed when Gray showed her the image of her check that was for sale on the dark web.
Daniel wrote the check for her water bill and put it in the mail.
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Just days later, it was for sale on criminal online marketplaces.
“Actually, you knew about it before I did,” Daniel told Gray.
Georgia State University criminologist David Maimon and his team of graduate students at the Evidence-Based Cybersecurity Research Group found Daniel’s check for sale, along with a host of others from Georgia. Including checks from cities, businesses and regular people like Daniel.
The checks were posted by criminals, for criminals.
“They take pictures, upload them on platforms and upload them for sale,” Maimon said.
It’s an old crime, made new again by new technology.
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“It’s not a group of adolescents stealing your mail. We’re talking organized crime groups who at the end of the day know exactly what they’re doing,” Maimon said.
Criminals are washing the checks, which means changing things like names and dollar amounts, then selling them on dark web marketplaces in exchange for crypto currency.
There’s even a set price list of $120-$150 for personal checks.
Business checks are worth more, at $250 a check. There’s even a bulk discount of $80 a check if you buy 100 or more.
“We’re talking about 11,000 checks every month we find,” Maimon said.
It all starts at the familiar blue mailboxes.
In August on Channel 2 Action News, we showed you how the mailboxes at an Alpharetta post office were taped up and closed after checks were stolen there.
In February, we reported on how armed, masked thieves in Duluth robbed a postal carrier of the master key to mailboxes in two ZIP codes.
Stealing those master keys, called arrow keys, means access to huge volumes of mail straight from the source.
“Once they have the check, think about what folks can do with it,” Maimon said.
What they did in Daniel’s case was wash the check and quickly cash the fake version. They made off with nearly $6,000 by the time Daniel’s bank contacted her.
That was the day after we knocked on her door.
“It’s like an invasion of my space and my peace because I’ve had to call Social Security. I’ve had to call payroll,” Daniel said.
Washing checks is just the beginning. The criminals now have your personal information, which they can use to make a fake ID and pretend to be you.
“You become the thief. We see that a lot,” Maimon said.
“It’s nothing I thought would happen. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have put a check in (the mailbox) and I won’t put anymore in there,” Daniel said.
What remains unclear is how many of the master keys have been stolen.
That’s because federal auditors at the USPS Inspector General’s office found the postal service does not even how many arrow keys are out there in circulation, let alone how many are missing.
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