COLUMBUS, Ohio — Two men who are accused of heading up a stolen check-cashing enterprise were arrested Wednesday, according to the Whitehall Division of Police.
Ryan Strother, 26, and Josaun Banks, 20, were arrested on forgery charges at an apartment complex in Whitehall during the execution of a search warrant, police records say.
While Banks and Strother were the only two suspects arrested as of yet, Whitehall Police Deputy Chief Dan Kelso said that they know there are at least 20 additional individuals, possibly up to 40, who may be involved in the enterprise that involves cashing checks that have been stolen from the mail.
“Who knows how many tentacles this thing has," Kelso said. "We at least hopefully have cut off the head of the monster."
In November, 10TV exposed the issue of mail thefts and how the scam works. Thieves will steal mail from either a mailbox outside someone's home or a blue collection bin. Checks found inside the envelopes are "washed" — meaning the ink is erased — so the amount and recipient can be replaced. Those blank checks are then sold online.
“They take those checks, they recreate them on a computer, using the exact same account numbers, same names on the check, all that, but it is a brand new check now,” Kelso said.
Kelso said most of these checks being cashed are in the range of $7,000 apiece. He added that Whitehall police now have stacks of checks.
This incident is still under investigation, however, police expect more arrests out of this enterprise. Kelso urges residents to be cautious when sending checks in the mail.
“Be vigilant with your finances when you ship off a check or a group of checks, or you are receiving checks. If those are not coming on time you need to start backtracking right away,” Kelso said.
How to avoid mail theft
To protect yourself and your loved ones against mail theft, keep these tips in mind:
Avoid using blue mailboxes. When you have the opportunity, go inside the postal office and drop off your mail.
Use a gel ink pen. Certain types of gel ink cannot be washed off because they permeate below the surface of the paper.
Use online bill pay when possible. This will reduce the number of checks you write. It also reduces exposure to possible fraud.
Monitor bank statements. Your bank statements will include a record of your written checks that have been cashed.