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New York Mysteries. com

For years I’ve posted mail at the Avenue A and 14 Street mailbox in front of my building. I had noticed that the mailboxes had been altered so that no-one could open them. Last month I posted a sizable check to my mastercard provider. As I slid the envelope into the mailbox I felt a sticky substance. Realizing it was a means of trapping checks, I rammed the envelope into the mail box, hoping it wasn’t sticking to the illegal glue. Of course, I should have taken it out. I called the mastercard people who were solicitous but what could they do? I had visions of a thief using a liquid that erases everything on  my check except  my signature, then filling it in with a large sum as noted in the Our Town article. I went to my bank. The bank’s representative checked my check’s number and saw that no money had been withdrawn – yet. Later that day I was notified that the mastercard company had received my check. I was lucky. 

I have copied this from the Jan. 20, 2023 Our Town issue. 

The OUR TOWN article

Mailing Checks? Proceed With Caution.

At least two UWS locals have become victims, after checks they sent in the mail were intercepted and altered. Across Manhattan, complaints are on the rise.

ABIGAIL GRUSKIN

UPPER EAST SIDE /

| 19 JAN 2023 | 04:14

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  • Mail collection boxes on Manhattan’s sidewalks are being targeted in check washing crimes. Photo: Abigail Gruskin


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  • The U.S. Postal Inspection Service urges people to drop off their mail before the last collection time of the day. Mailboxes that formerly had pull-down doors now have thin slots to thwart thieves’ “mail fishing.” Photo via a USPIS safety flier.

After returning from a post-Thanksgiving visit with family out of state, one Upper West Side resident checked her bank account, only to find an expensive discrepancy. On Thursday, Dec. 15, she realized $7,000 — instead of the $75 she had originally sent as a charitable donation, in the form of a check — had been deducted. The check had been stolen and cashed by someone she didn’t know.

“It’s shocking, because you try to be careful with your money and then all of a sudden, out of the blue, it’s gone,” said the woman, who told her story on the condition of anonymity.

The Upper West Sider mailed her check dated Nov. 23, 2022 via a sidewalk USPS collection box on a stretch of West End Avenue between West 72nd and West 76th Streets. She’d attempted to avoid foul play by sending a check, rather than doling out her credit card number over the phone or online — but it backfired. “Somebody is making a good deal of money,” she said. It’s a crime that’s been unfolding across Manhattan with increasing frequency over the past few months, according to U.S. Postal Inspector Glen McKechnie.

Criminals On A Roll

Only a few days earlier, on Monday, Nov. 21, one West End Avenue resident mailed two checks, in the amounts of $15,000 and $1,500, on behalf of his company, Fantasy Interactive, Inc., according to police briefings. Later, his bank informed him that his checks had been intercepted by not one, but two “unknown suspects” who made themselves out as the payees.

Incidents of mail thievery and check washing have been “rampant” citywide, including on the Upper East Side, according to Council Member Julie Menin. “This is an enormous problem and it’s particularly problematic for seniors,” she said, explaining that the issue was hurting New Yorkers even back when she served as commissioner of the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, formerly the Department of Consumer Affairs.

In Midtown, near the intersection of East 38th Street and Madison Avenue, a man was arrested early in the morning on Wednesday, Jan. 18 for stealing mail, according to McKechnie. He said the man was found with mail from collection boxes at 401 Broadway and at the intersections of West 92nd Street and West 87th Street with West End Avenue.

McKechnie noted that despite rising complaints, incidents of theft are still only happening “here and there.” But criminals seem to be working with new tools.

Caught In A Sticky Situation

On the Upper West Side, the unlucky resident whose check was intercepted at the end of the year had previously noticed a sticky residue coating some collection boxes — which left her wondering if it could be linked with mail theft. A recent Fox 5 New York segment identified the “sticky substance” as part of a technique used by criminals to make stealing mail easier, showing video footage of a man interfering with a USPS box on a New York sidewalk.

To avoid becoming a victim of mailbox fishing, the USPS suggests an easy fix: drop off your mail in advance of the last collection time listed on sidewalk boxes — and not afterward, when mail will sit unattended overnight, McKechnie said. “These criminals, they don’t go at six, seven o’clock at night to steal,” he said. “They’ll go two, three, four o’clock in the morning, when the streets are deserted and it’s dark.” The NYPD advises people to bring mail containing sensitive or valuable information to a Post Office and write checks using pens with permanent ink.

Menin’s office and the 19th Precinct are distributing pens and the Council member is encouraging people to utilize online banking, to negate any need to send physical checks via mail. To teach older New Yorkers to use crucial online platforms, the City Council works with a group called Older Adults Technology Services (OATS). “If you switch to online banking, this then becomes a moot issue,” Menin said.

Though prevention is the best solution, according to McKechnie, the USPS often works with the NYPD to catch criminals. When investigating a case of mail theft, he explained, postal inspectors seek subpoenas to serve the banks where altered checks are deposited and collect account holder information plus relevant ATM video footage — a process that can take 90 days. McKechnie recommends that people make their complaints directly to the USPS in addition to the NYPD. (To report a case of mail theft, you can call the Postal Inspection Service at 1-877-876-2455.)

In recent years, collection boxes that previously had doors people could pull open were upgraded with new “high security” features, including the thin slots with rings inside that mail is now pushed through.

After the Upper West Side woman’s run in with mail theft, her bank took about a week to reimburse her, she said. Now, she and her husband are more cautious — and make more regular trips to the Post Office. “We definitely think twice about where we’re putting our mail.”

“It’s shocking, because you try to be careful with your money and then all of a sudden, out of the blue, it’s gone.” A woman on the UWS whose $75 written to a charity was altered to give $7,000 to a criminal who stole the check.

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ABIGAIL GRUSKIN CHECK WASHING CHELSEA DOWNTOWN GLEN MCKECHNIE JULIE MENIN MAIL THEFT MANHATTAN MIDTOWN MANHATTAN UPPER EAST SIDE UPPER WEST SIDE 

NYMysteries.com

January 14, 2023

 Isn’t this a lovely photo. Imagine strolling through a leafy green forest with dappled sunlight and the only sound is you trying to contact a Verizon representative to ask a simple question: Have I paid my current bill? I’m between electronic mail 75% of the time and mailed mail 25% of the time. Had I already paid it online? I didn’t want to also mail a check. Bored yet? 

VERIZON HAS YOU COVERED FOR ALL YOUR CONNECTED NEEDS. That’s the message splashed across your-pay-by-mail envelope. Going online, I was not able to speak to anyone. Instead, I was forced to use their Chat system. It consisted of repeat questions: What is your phone number with us? What is your account number with us? I copied the information from the latest bill (I guess) and was asked once again What is your phone number with us? What is your account number with us? Once again I gave it. This rigamarole continued until Chat said: We have no record of this account. So much for Verizon covering all your connected needs.

Continue your walk in the woods.

NYMysteries.com

January 7, 2023

Off to the Whitney to see the Edward Hopper exhibit. His painting and sketches flood the fifth floor. There was a well behaved crowd. We wove in and out each other’s space courteously and quietly. Wow! That’s a Saturday in a NYC museum. 

Hopper interests me because he has a hold on the American imagination. Families were gathered around various pictures. I imagine that in twenty years the five and six year olds will be doing what their parents did today: ushering their kids around a Hopper exhibit.

Some tidbits: Josephine Nivison Hopper was an artist as well as being Hopper’s wife and only model. After her husband died, she bequeathed their artistic estate  to the Whitney Museum of American Art.

This drug store was painted about 1932, the same time  the Hoppers were eating at the Automat and Hopper was drawing numerous pictures of it.

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This is Night Windows from 1928.

November, Washington Square c. 1932/ 1959

Judson Memorial Church is in the foreground. The Hoppers lived nearby.
Jo Hopper, about 63 years old and Hopper’s only model.

NYMysteries. com

December 31, 2022

From Lit Hub Weekly: Thomas Edison celebrating the invention of the light bulb.

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This photo of Thomas Edison reminded me of my Uncle Bill’s graduation photo. Please forgive a little name dropping. i.e. Mr. and Mrs. Edison. 

Don’t you prefer this to  a long list of what we endured in 2022?

Uncle Bill Heron was the valedictorian ( i.e. bragging as well as name dropping) of his West Orange, New Jersey High School. He stands to the right of Mr. and Mrs. Edison. 

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Happy New Year! I took this recent photo at Ole & Steen where I have delicious Danish pastries once a week.

December 23,2022

NYMysteries.com

A recent Christmas assembly at The Ramallah Friends School

The Ramallah Friends School (RFS) was founded over a hundred years ago and was originally named The Girls’ Training Home of Ramallah. The name was changed to The Friends Girls’ School. Soon after The Friends Boys’ School was added in 1901. The RFS was originally run by Quakers and is located in Ramallah and El-Bireh. The School offers PreK-12 education and maintains a student body that is representative of Palestinian society.  

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NYMysteries.com

It’s been a busy and chilly week. On Dec. 14 I attended Sisters’ in Crime Holiday party at the Salaam Restaurant on 13th Street. The food is homemade by people from the Middle East and Morocco. From the fried chickpeas and Spinach pie to Egyptian Bean Salad coupled with lots of fun, laughter and book news.

NYMysteries.com

NYMysteries.com

 The West Village Chorale’s holiday concert this year, “Many Celebrations: New York Joy!” was held at Judson Memorial Church’s Meeting Room on Sunday, December 11. It was packed. It was also live-streamed.  

The performance began at 3:00 pm and ended about 4:30. Seasonal celebratory songs from Christmas, Hannukah and Kwanza were sung heartily by the sixty something chorale. Henco Espag was the guest conductor. His popularity was evident in the resounding applause he received from the over-flowing audience. Other esteemed performers were pianist Elena Belli and percussionist Angelo Antinori.  

Henco Espag, Guest Conductor
Grace Goodman, Alto
The West Village Chorale
Packed audience at Judson

NYMysteries.com

December 2, 2022

Now that the Christmas season is upon us, I was thinking of snake handling. Recently, I spoke to a friend whose relative worships in a church that honors snakes. It’s a secret. One member of the family told another member who telephoned me. Many years ago, snakes and I got together when my mother briefly taught science in Loogootee, Indiana. She wanted to impress on her seventh grade or was it eight grade class that snakes were to be treated with respect. She did this by draping my six year old arms with snakes. Oddly, I wasn’t frightened. After all, she was my mother. 

Through the years I’ve been bothered by the killing of snakes in wild places where they live. That’s not to say when I hiked I didn’t let out a scream or two when a serpent crossed my path. 

As everyone knows you can find anything on the internet. My friend started searching for snake worshipping churches. There are about 125 churches that use poisonous snakes in their service. Of course, many are in the deep South. But hold on. There are also a number in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and West Virginia. My source, and I’m sure you’ve guessed it, is Wikipedia.

The snake in Genesis corrupted Eve. And its reputation has been down hill ever since.

According to Wikipedia, Holy Ghost People is a 1967 documentary by Peter Adair. It has entered the public domain and is available at the Internet Archive.

This is copied from Trudy Coxe, executive director of Newport’s Preservation Society

Gilded Age at a Glance Dining out for Thanksgiving dinner was a common practice in the late 1800s, at least for those who could afford it, and turkey was not necessarily the choice of entrée. The Thanksgiving menu for 1894 at the Hotel Vendome in Boston featured Escalopes of Red Snapper, Boiled Ham with Sprouts, Leg of Mutton with Caper Sauce, Chicken Pot Pie Country Style, Ribs of Prime Beef with Yorkshire Pudding, Roast Mallard Duck, Broiled Quail on Toast, Boned Capon, Peking Duckling with Apple Dressing … and, yes, Roast Turkey with Cranberry Sauce.

Thanksgiving Nov. 24, 2022

Enjoy your Fall was a sign I saw in a nursing home. A charming couple I know could have printed it on their walls. A few days before Thanksgiving the hostess fell. She broke her right wrist, sprained her left wrist and broke her nose. 

Cancel Thanksgiving? Don’t be silly. 

With the aid of two close friends and a dozen emails asking for starters, they pulled it off. Big Time. The host ruled the kitchen, preparing turkey and gravy, stuffing or do you say dressing? and heating up various dishes: corn bread, scalloped onions, herbed brussel sprouts, cranberry dressing, homemade apple pudding, pumpkin pie.

Because of her broken nose our hostess had raccoon eyes. There were dark circles under her eyes that extended across her taped nose. In the midst of this was her gentle smile and a twinkle in her eyes that a fall couldn’t erase. 

How many people? I don’t know. Maybe twenty? twenty-five? ranging in age from nine to eighty plus. Mostly Americans with a few Dutch and Germans added, speaking perfect English of course. 

It was a glorious Thanksgiving. 

NYMysteries.com

November 18, 2022

 I attended the New England Crime Bake, Nov. 11-13.

Among the ups: William Martin’s master class on your first line, first paragraph, first page, Reading the Crime Scene, Best New England Crime Stories: Deadly Nightshade, connecting with an agent, finding open submissions, the hard working  Hilton staff, the IngramSpark Tennessee reps, the buzz and excitement of talking about books.

Among the downs: taxi from Boston to Dedham by driver who kept his eyes glued to his smartphone claiming he knew the route. $74 later we arrived. Speaking of money, the Hilton charged for everything. The cuisine? Many of us didn’t pay the $35 for evening left overs, eating bar food instead.