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Mail theft ring active in Sonoma County

Sonoma County Sheriff’s detectives are on the trail of at least 13 suspects they think are responsible for stealing checks, altering them and cashing them for large sums of money.

They’re tracking at least 21 cases in which checks have been stolen from mail boxes, altered or counterfeited, and cashed at local banks. Two suspects had been arrested, but others are sought.

“This (mail theft) is not something new, but we’ve seen a big spike in it all of a sudden” said Sgt. Mike Raasch, who leads the sheriff’s property crimes investigation unit. He said he believes the cases his and other law enforcement agencies have tracked since September may be connected, possibly through an organized check-cashing ring.

As he spoke, the wall behind his desk was covered with mug shots of suspects, who mainly are from East Bay cities. A particularly clear trail of clues has been left, he said. Sometimes the culprits counterfeit new checks but more often they wash the original ink from stolen checks and then write the check out again, usually for a certain amount: $923.17. More recently, some checks in the amount of $1,200 have been detected. The counterfeiters often leave another clue on the check’s memo line: a five-digit number, followed by a dash and three more numbers, he said.

The check is then taken to the bank where it originated and cashed, often by people using their real identification, Raasch said.

Mendocino County investigators also noted an increase in mail theft and issued a press release to warn residents.

“For the past several weeks unknown persons have been stealing mail from roadside mailboxes primarily in the Ukiah and Redwood Valley areas,” said Mendocino Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Van Patten in the statement. He said the thefts were happening primarily during the late night and early morning hours. He asked that anyone who sees someone tampering with a roadside mailbox to call 463-4086.

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