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[whitespace] Checks are stolen from the city's residential mailboxes

Saratoga--Investigators with the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office have identified several suspects in the Central Valley area who they believe are responsible for fraudulently cashing thousands of dollars in altered checks. The checks were stolen from mailboxes in Saratoga, Los Altos Hills and other South County areas.

The suspects steal outgoing mail containing checks from residential mailboxes and change the name of the payee to a person or business unknown to the payer. Often, the dollar amount on the check is also changed to thousands of dollars greater for which the original check was written.

The checks are altered in two different ways, according to Sgt. John Hirokawa with the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office. The first method is a chemical process called "white-washing" in which the suspects lift the ink from a check, but leave the authentic signature. The checks are also altered through duplication , Hirokawa said.

The altered checks are being deposited into a credit union in Fresno County containing $100,000. Fresno County law enforcement personnel have made at least one arrest related to the investigation, Hirokawa said. Santa Clara County Sheriff's investigators, Fresno County law enforcement and the U.S. Postal Service are collaborating on the ongoing investigation.

Mail theft has been a continuing problem in the Saratoga area for the past 10 years, Hirokawa said.

The Sheriff's Office believes the mail thieves target areas similar to Saratoga because the rural mailboxes on the roadside are easy to access and often are not visible from homes. Also, the mail thieves often increase the check amount up to $8,000 to $9,000, and target affluent areas where residents' bank accounts are more likely to have greater funds available.

The Sheriff's Office personnel are also investigating several cases of identity theft in Saratoga which may be associated with the mail thefts. The thieves obtain personal information, such as social security numbers, dates of birth, driver's license numbers and addresses from resident's mail. They then use this information to open credit card and cellular phone accounts, and even take out student loans.

The Sheriff's Office recommends that Saratoga residents shred their mail containing personal information before throwing it out.

The Sheriff's Office also encourages Saratoga residents to send mail containing checks or money directly from a post office or other secure mailbox drop-off, and not through a residential mailbox. They also recommend that residents make sure their checks have been received and cashed by the intended party and for the intended amount.

Anyone with information regarding mail thefts can contact Sgt. Karen Burgess at the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office Westside Substation in Saratoga at 408.867.9715, ext. 251. Anonymous tips can be left on the Sheriff's Office website at www.sccsheriff.org.
Leigh Ann Maze

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