Residents in an east-central Fresno neighborhood woke up Sunday morning to find their community mailbox hauled off by brazen thieves.
They’re not alone in feeling angry over the fact that something as simple as mailing — or receiving — a letter no longer comes with a virtual guarantee of security.
Mail theft is dramatically rising across America, according to the inspector general for the U.S. Postal Service.
And, with the holidays approaching, Fresno area police are reminding residents to protect against mail thieves and porch pirates.
Fresno Police Lt. Bill Dooley says there will probably be a spike in porch piracy and other types of theft beginning mid-to-late November as Christmas packages start to be ordered and delivered.
“As we enter into November, you’ll see us start to put out more community PSAs on how to guard against thefts from porches, from cars while shopping, etc,” said Dooley.
Local Mail and Package Thefts
Over the last couple of weeks, Fresno police have received four reports of stolen mail, and three of theft from porches.
The two weeks before that in September, Fresno PD received five reports of stolen mail along with someone swiping a camera that was set up to catch mail thieves.
Public information officer Ty Wood with the Clovis Police Department also anticipates a rise in mail theft as the holidays near.
However, Wood says they have not seen an increase in mail theft or package thefts over the last few weeks.
“Winter is the time of year that we see an increase annually for those two crimes, mostly due to tax season,” said Wood. “According to stats, we should begin to see an increase in November and that will not begin to decrease until typically March.”
Community Mailboxes Uprooted From the Ground
Some mail thieves are going a step further by completely uprooting entire mailboxes from the ground.
On Oct. 12, thieves removed an entire community neighborhood mailbox removed at 3500 W. Harvard. And, on Sunday, Oct. 23, they hauled off another community mailbox near Amherst and Burl avenues in east Fresno.
No suspects have been identified yet, says Dooley, and they are not sure of the method the thieves used to remove the mailboxes.
Long Wait to Replace Community Mailboxes
According to Fresno City Councilmember Mike Karbassi, the theft of community mailboxes is a longstanding problem in the city.
A year ago, the city tried to set up an appointment with the local USPS Post Master to replace many of the stolen community mailboxes, but progress is slow, Karbassi said.
“We were trying to get them to agree on a greater supply of those community mailboxes because those mailboxes were built so long ago and have a thinner metal that is easier for tampering with,” said Karbassi.
The councilman said that residents have to wait months to get replacements, and that poses extra challenges for those who don’t drive.
He advises residents to sign up for USPS’ free informed delivery which will alert residents after mail is stolen.
How to Combat Mail Theft
Wood says the best way to address mail theft and porch pirates is to report anything stolen.
“We always push people to make police reports because we say if you don’t report it, we don’t know that it happened, and then we can’t do anything about it,” said Wood.
“If we see a specific spike within a specific area over a certain amount of time, that’s what we call a crime pattern or spree. We will send out undercover units in that area and just saturate that area with officers during the timeframe that those crimes are happening.”
Mail Theft Is a National Problem
In March, a Georgia State State professor and his students examined what is driving the national increase in mail theft.
They found that thieves were using Telegram, an encrypted messaging service, to sell stolen checks and mailbox keys. The checks are then “washed,” meaning that a stolen check written for $50 is turned into a $500 check before it’s cashed. Typically, mailbox keys are obtained by robbing a postal employee.
But sometimes, it’s the postal workers who are stealing the mail.
Earlier this month, three U.S. postal employees were among four people arrested in connection with a $1.3 million fraud and identity theft scheme allegedly carried out in New York and New Jersey, reports CNN.
Postal workers in cities like New Orleans and Boston have also been caught stealing documents that they were supposed to deliver.