Hey, Mr. Postman…
Ever wonder what’s in someone else’s mailbox?
If you mail a check to the church, it really ought to get there. The Post Office did their job, but trailing the postal carrier were allegedly four individuals with masks and sacks over their shoulders. OK, that may be embellishing things a bit. But what we DO know is that a number of area churches were missing checks from their mailboxes. To the tune of about $60,000. The four allegedly deposited the checks into their own bank accounts.
The individuals were arrested on charges of larceny of bank checks, identity theft, felony conspiracy to commit identity theft, and obtaining property by false pretenses. They are in jail awaiting court appearances. Link
Even with the trend toward electronic transfers of money, a lot of checks are written to churches. And a lot of them arrive by mail. This is a ripe situation for fraud, on several fronts:
- A church with a long name may receive a check payable to a shorter version of that name (“Trinity” instead of “Trinity Reformed Church”). A light-fingered staffer collecting the mail (or a mail thief) could open a bank account for “Trinity Ministries” across town and cash that short-name check quite easily there.
- A mail thief could steal from the mailbox and alter the checks to remove the church name and add in their own Link
- A mail thief could forge a signature on the back of the check as “Payable to ___” and deposit it in their own account.
Mail theft should be prevented physically with locked mailboxes, and mail retrieval should be done with two unrelated individuals.
How To Prevent This At Your Church
Proper handling of mail – in BEST of practices – would involve a post office box that required two keys for opening. Two church staff would visit the post office, retrieve the mail, and then-and-there restrictively endorse the checks with a rubber stamp showing the church name, bank, and account number, with a prominent, “For Deposit Only”. Or they could pop the mailbox contents into a tamper-evident plastic bag for transport back to the church (one person carries the bag, the other carries the tear-off stub that contains a copy of the bag’s serial number).
Less secure options include:
- A two-key locking mailbox on the wall outside the church office (buy a one-key locking mailbox and add a second lock to it);
- A one-key post-office box (perhaps with the key stored in a two-key box at the church office);
- A one-key locking mailbox (shown above) bolted to the wall outside the church office (see photo, above, this one costs about $100);
- All mail sent to the pastor’s home (or other designated individual).
Consider our church audit service – it’s easy and surprisingly affordable. We help find holes in financial procedures and tell you how to plug them.
- Your church’s chief money person answers a bunch of questions online
- He or she fields questions out to others as needed;
- All the answers are reviewed by the church staff, elders, and deacons (and corrected as necessary);
- We produce a book showing what is being done well and what could be improved.
- The book also includes a ‘best practices’ section and a plan to do it all with the minimum number of people;
- We print copies of the book for the pastor and each board member, and meet by video conference to discuss implementation.