On Sunday, the New York Times ran a feature story on Architectural Mailboxes and specifically, the Oasis® Locking Mailboxes. It praised the company for innovation in providing a solution to a growing problem, and highlighted their locking mailboxes as a secure option for homeowners concerned about identity theft.
Specifically, the article stated (emphasis added):
“What was so special about an Oasis? Well, for one thing, thieves couldn’t get their hands past its patented Hopper door — a hinged opening that functions much like those on the Postal Service’s big blue mailboxes.”
As you know if you read our blog, this is blatantly not true. In fact, the Oasis Jr® by Architectural Mailboxes can be fished by hand and pried open with a screwdriver fairly easily. In and of itself, this is not such a huge problem – the majority of mailboxes in America are not truly secure, and really no locking mailbox is 100% theft proof. The problem is that this particular mailbox is being marketed as a “security” locking mailbox.
According to the NY Times article, Architectural Mailboxes has already sold 150,000+ of their locking mailboxes, and consumers think they are buying a secure mailbox, when in fact, as this video clearly shows, the mailbox can be fished by hand and pried open with a screwdriver in just seconds:
Why does this matter? A locking mailbox is a fundamental component of identity theft protection, and not just any locking mailbox, but one that keeps thieves out. Mail thieves don’t just see a mailbox with a lock on it and move on to the next box; they see an easily accessed treasure trove that is likely storing more sensitive mail than the unlocked mailbox next to it.
There are 60 million unlocked mailboxes in the United States, and increasingly homeowners are switching to locking mailboxes as they are warned of the dangers of leaving their personal mail unprotected in unlocked mailboxes for any passerby to steal. As such, it is important for consumers to be educated on the locking mailbox product category so they can make a decision that will not leave their mail vulnerable to criminals – that is, if security is an important factor in the consumer choice.
That said, I decided to write Amy Wallace, the New York Times “Prototype” Columnist, an e-mail to let her know she had misinformed her readers. The letter is included below:
Dear Ms. Amy Wallace,
I read your feature story on the Oasis Locking Mailbox with great interest. I think it is wonderful the NY Times is featuring innovative businesses like Architectural Mailboxes that aim to offer a solution – a locking mailbox – to a growing problem – the nationwide epidemic of mail identity theft.
However, as somewhat of an expert on the topic of locking security mailboxes and mail identity theft, I must tell you that you have misinformed your readership.
Most significantly, the article states:
“What was so special about an Oasis? Well, for one thing, thieves couldn’t get their hands past its patented Hopper door — a hinged opening that functions much like those on the Postal Service’s big blue mailboxes. Also, it wasn’t ugly.”
In fact, the lack of security due to the Hopper door (as well as the low-quality locking mechanism) is in our opinion one of the biggest problems with the Oasis. Just days before you wrote this article I blogged about the Oasis Jr here:
Here is the video showing a full grown man easily pulling a package out of the Oasis “security” mailbox and prying it open with a screwdriver in just seconds: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AxL6b5YRyQ
The problem with the Oasis, in short, is that it is NOT TRULY SECURE. The patented hopper door on the Oasis accepts small to medium sized parcels, and also accepts fishing hands. Additionally, the Oasis can be pried open with a screwdriver in just seconds.
The consequences of these security inadequacies can be devastating for uninformed consumers. The Oasis “security” mailbox may provide homeowners with a false sense of security, which may inspire them to leave their mail (just as vulnerable to thieves) much longer than they would otherwise in an unlocked box. With a low security locking mailbox, thieves can still easily steal your mail, and they do.
See these news report on homeowners with “locking” mailboxes who were victimized because their boxes were not truly secure:
These are just two examples; there are hundreds more. If you would like to see just how much mail theft is going on, even from “locking” mailboxes like the Oasis, look here: Mail identity Theft
Homeowners need to be informed and educated about how to secure their mail and protecting their identity. They should know they need to (1) secure outgoing mail – send checks only from a secure mailbox; (2) destroy mail with a cross-cut paper shredder or otherwise before discarding it; and (3) secure incoming mail: either use a PO Box or use a high security locking mailbox. There are only a affordable high-security options out there, and our company, Epoch Design, makes one of them.
A high quality locking mailbox must (1) be made of heavy gauge steel, (2) include an anti-pry feature so it can’t be popped open with screwdriver, and (3) not allow fishing by hand. The Mail Boss by Epoch Design (as well as the Fort Knox and the Armadillo locking mailboxes) offer real security against mail identity theft.
Interestingly, the Mail Boss came about much in the same way as the Oasis products by Architectural Mailboxes did. Necessity is the mother of invention.
Epoch Design had company mail stolen, and the company President David Bolles had personal mail stolen. Police recommended a locking mailbox, but David could only find low-security options like the Oasis and the MailSafe, which could be pried open easily. After months of R & D, finally the Mail Boss was patented.
Now more than ever, homeowners are looking for a real solution to protect their mail and secure their identities. The Mail Boss, hailed “Postbox Maximus” by Popular Mechanics, is just that.
Of course, I do not expect you to do a feature on the Mail Boss simply because I have written you this email. I just want you to know that the Oasis mailbox is not what it claims to be, and I believe homeowners have a right to know that. I fear that those individuals who read your article as a source of information on a product (and not just an expose on an innovative company) have been misled.
I would be happy to answer any questions you may have, and look forward to hearing from you.
I hope to hear back from Ms. Wallace, but if not, I will be forwarding this e-mail to the Consumerist, in hopes that they think this issue is as important as I do. Please, feel free to e-mail your comments or concerns to the New York Times at firstname.lastname@example.org.