Thieves target rural mailboxes

Waikato farmers are being warned to stay extra vigilant after cheques for up to tens of thousands of dollars have been defrauded right from out of their mailboxes.

Thieves are targeting farmers, who put their outgoing mail in their letter boxes and put the flag up ready for collection, as a way of mailing cheques.

Jared Thompson, the officer in charge at Thames Police, said once that was done, it was all too easy for the thieves to take their pick.

''They just have to look for boxes with the flag up and mail that's addressed to the IRD or something like that. Then they just wash the cheque until only the signature remains, and refill the details and cash it in,'' he said.

Though he could not go into detail about the ''wash'', he said it was very cleanly done so bank staff wouldn't know the difference.

He said the thieves were targeting properties on Thames Coast Road, north of Thames and further south toward Ngatea, and were cashing in cheques to the value of around $12,500 at a time.

Waikato Federated Farmers president, James Houghton said this kind of thing has happened in the past, and there was not much for farmers to do but stay vigilant, or consider changing their ways.

''The thing is, it's a very hard thing to prove and work through. It might be a month or six weeks down the track before you realise what's actually happening, once you get past the whole thing of whether you paid it, or it got lost, or anything like that,'' he said.

''Try not to put the mail out until it's close to the scheduled pick up time, don't get it out too early because that flag just highlights to the thieves that there's a cheque in the mail and they're just opportunists.''

Otherwise, it was a matter of keeping a watchful eye on who is at the mail box, mailing it at the post office in town, or switching to internet banking if they can.

Police are also encouraging bank staff to notify police if they suspect anyone who is presenting a large value cheque, and to keep, and avoid excess handling of the cheque for fingerprinting purposes.