Cindy Pelayo has been paying her rent on time at Casas Blancas in West Central Fresno over the past year and never thought she would fall victim to identity fraud. "The one and only time I buy a money order, I put it in the drop box in the slot in the manager's office and 2 days later the manager gives me a 30 day notice to pay my rent," said Pelayo.
Pelayo's rent money was cashed in after thieves made off with the drop box contents in September. She has yet to see the money come back to her but still owes that month's rent. "It's been going on for so long, I have to pay the rent. So this rent for January 1st, I'm paying 2 months, I'm just moving out," said Pelayo.
Fresno police say they've seen an increase of apartment drop box thefts in recent months. "Theft of checks is very common and it's very lucrative for these suspects," said Sgt. Sherree Flores with the Fresno Police Department.
Last month, crooks made off with around 7 checks from Reflections apartment complex. Thieves also took $10,000 worth of checks from Cobblestone Village. And The Lakes apartments have also been targeted.
"It probably will only take someone a minute or two to empty out a box. They make little devices that go down into the boxes and pick up the mail. Often, it's a sticky substance and they just pull the mail out of the boxes," said Flores.
Authorities say you can take some easy steps to avoid falling victim to check fraud crimes. They advise tenants to avoid putting checks or money orders inside a drop box overnight. Pay your rent in-person or online and use gel pens with special ink that won't wash off.
Even though Pelayo still plans on moving out, she said she'll be more cautious when paying the rent next time. "Now I just make sure I get a receipt, even if I have to drive 30 minutes away from work to do it on my lunch break," said Pelayo.
Police say if you do fall victim, alert your bank to close down your account and file a police report.