ALERT: Mail Theft in Downtown Multi-Unit Building
Downtown Muse – 4/3/10
(LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA) “Downtown Los Angeles residents and businesses should be aware of recent mail thefts in the area and take precautions to protect the identities, finances, and mail of themselves and their neighbors.
Security camera footage discovered on Friday, April 3, 2010 shows a man and a woman who gained unauthorized access into a downtown Los Angeles multi-unit building at 923 E. 3rd Street around 11:16 p.m. on March 22, 2010 by apparently using a key to open a lockbox reserved for [USPS] Service use. The man then used what appears to be the same key to unlock the panel of residential and business postal boxes, then he and the woman gathered and left with stacks of incoming and outgoing mail. The couple entered and exited the building in under two minutes. […]
Other incidents of mail theft (and related crimes of check forgery and identity theft) were reported by residents in this same building in early February and on another undetermined date in March. Surveillance videos are currently being examined on dates after March 23 to the present and will be posted online as they become available. View still photos and videos online at http://downtownmuse.blogspot.com.
According to authorities, if residents and business owners observe anything suspicious such as loitering or a presence in a building by unknown occupants, they are asked to write a description of the individuals or incident, along with any specific information such as a license plate number, and report it immediately to the Postal Inspectors or local police. In the meantime, if residents or business owners have experienced unusual activity related to their mail, checking accounts, or credit cards or seen any of those individuals shown on video and/or seen any suspicious actions or individuals in or near the building, they are asked to write this information down and provide it to authorities, noting any specific details that might be of interest. […]
USPS TIPS for RESIDENTS & BUSINESSES to HELP MINIMIZE EXPOSURE to MAIL THIEVES
- DO NOT leave mail in your mailbox overnight. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after delivery, especially if you are expecting checks, credit cards, or other negotiable items. If you won’t be home when the items are expected, have an employee or ask a trusted friend to pick up your mail.
- Use the letter slots at your post office to mail letters, or personally hand them to a letter carrier.
- Deposit your mail into blue USPS collection boxes during the day BEFORE the last posted pick-up time.
- Use your bank’s “Direct Deposit” for regular incoming checks. Ask your bank to wire checks directly into your accounts.
- Promptly report non-receipt of credit cards, checks, and other valuable mail to the senders and to the Postal Inspectors.
- Be alert for suspicious people or vehicles in your area. If you see suspicious activity, call 911 and the Postal Inspectors immediately while suspects are still in the area.
- Use neighborhood watches and community programs to deter vandals.
- Do not send cash in the mail.
- Ask your bank for “secure” checks that cannot be altered.
- If you will be away from home for more than three days, ask your local post office to hold your mail until you return. You can initiate a “Mail Hold” at the post office or online at http://usps.com.
ADDITIONAL CRIME PREVENTION OPTIONS TO CONSIDER
- Relocate your building’s external mailbox to a higher visibility area (requires USPS approval).
- Relocate mail receptacles to the inside of a building or locker enclosure.
- Purchase mail receptacles with a higher level of security (e.g., CBUs, horizontal boxes).
- Install a security cage around the mailboxes (e.g., wrought iron, fencing).
- Request increased police patrols.
- If security patrols are available, ask officers on duty to pick up the mail and place it in a safe place (e.g., office).”
COMMENTS: This is bizarre they have a key! I wonder how they managed that? In this kind of scenario the police should be suspicious of any shady USPS employees that may be providing access to these thieves. Usually, the mail thieves just bust into these boxes with a screwdriver or a crowbar, since most USPS CBU’s are not secure. Personally, I don’t trust any CBU’s and would recommend the use of a high security residential locking mailbox, but obviously that is not an option in an apartment building.
Mail Mix-Up Exposes Identity Theft Vulnerability
CBS 13 – 4/1/10
(WINTERS, CALIFORNIA) “A young woman living the Yolo County town of Winters was anxious to get her unemployment benefits information in the mail. But once she received that letter, she was surprised to find someone else’s social security number.
“If we were criminals, we could take it and use it to our advantage,” said Jamie.
As soon as she spotted an extra letter in her envelope with another woman’s name, address, and social security number, Jamie called EDD to report the mistake. But she says she was told to just mail it back to them. Worried it would end up in the wrong hands again, Jamie left a message for a manager, and called us to get the word out.
“I want her to know what happened. She needs to know that I got her information — that her social security number was given to a complete stranger,” said Jamie.
We called the woman the letter should have gone to, and she was upset: “I’m flabbergasted. I just don’t know what’s going on here.”
She was so concerned about her security that she wanted to confirm my identity before continuing with our conversation. We also took the letter to EDD where a spokesperson assured us it’s an isolated incident. But we also wanted to know why the state is printing social security numbers, when it’s against California law, unless state or federal law requires it.
In a statement, the spokesperson he said: “Employers are required to report earnings to EDD using the SSN, and at this time, EDD has to use the SSN to identify individuals….” The representative says the SSN is essential to process claims, but that doesn’t sit well with Jamie, who says they should stick to printing the last four digits.
“I think if it happened to me, it happened to someone else. I asked her who has my information out there. She had no answer for me,” said Jamie. As for that original letter, Jamie says she’s holding on to it until she hears from a manager at EDD. Then she plans to shred it, to make sure it doesn’t end up in the wrong hands. EDD also says they’ll contact the intended letter recipient and take steps to protect her privacy.”
COMMMENTS: With things like social security numbers printed on your mail, WHY would you use an unsecured mailbox. Would you leave your SSN# (or even your medical bills) lying around for anyone to take? There is an epidemic of mail identity theft, and a locking mailbox is sadly a necessity in the world today. This woman is lucky a good citizen like Jamie found her misdirected mail, but I’d venture to guess that every day it arrives in an unlocked mailbox vulnerable for any methamphetamine addict or other criminal to steal.
There are 60 million unlocked mailboxes in the US – I wonder how many of these people use a paper shredder, vigilantly shredding.. that’s right.. what they receive in their unlocked mailbox? Just remember, thieves would rather steal from a mailbox than the dump. Less dirty. So get smart and lock up your mailbox!
New York police officer, six others arrested in tax refund and tax diversion scheme
Empire State News – 4/7/10
(NEW YORK, NEW YORK) “[Six arrested] for their roles in a scheme to steal and receive from the U.S. mail hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal and New York State tax refund checks that were secured by filing false and fraudulent tax returns.
From June 2009 through December 18, 2009, the defendants received [US] Treasury and New York State tax refund checks that were addressed to apartments in a residential apartment building located in the Bronx (the “Building”). The tax refund checks, netting hundreds of thousands of dollars, were issued as a result of false and fraudulent tax returns filed with the IRS and NYSDOTF. Many of these tax returns were filed using stolen identities of persons whose Social Security numbers were assigned to people whose mailing addresses, at the time of application, were in Puerto Rico. As part of the investigation, an undercover federal agent provided several tax refund checks to the defendants in exchange for payment.
[…] The defendants are all charged with one count of conspiracy to steal mail and receive stolen mail and one count of theft and receipt of stolen mail. Each of these counts carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and a maximum fine of the greatest of $250,000, or twice the pecuniary loss or gain derived from the offense. […]”
COMMENTS: While these counts carry a maximum sentence of five years, it is far more likely they will receive a slap on the wrist and probation time. Watch out – these people will be at it again in no time.
Santa Rosa Woman Pleads No Contest In Mail Theft
CBS 5 – 4/6/10
(SANTA ROSA, CA) “A Santa Rosa woman pleaded no contest Friday to 14 felony counts including mail theft, according to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office. Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua said 47-year-old Tracy Alcantra committed the crimes between November 2007 and February 2009.
Passalacqua said the offenses included stealing mail from numerous victims, using checks belonging to others, transporting methamphetamine, passing counterfeit money and creating and passing false checks using stolen bank account information.
Alcantra had been sent to state prison on four other occasions, has one prior felony strike and committed the crimes while out on bail, according to the district attorney’s office. She faces up to eight years in prison when she is sentenced April 29.”
COMMENTS: It is not surprising that there is a methamphetamine connection here. Most mail thieves are trading mail for cash or meth, and work in highly organized ID theft rings. Mail identity theft is an epidemic across the country. Therefore, homeowners need to get smart and start securing their mail. This means (1) use a high security locking mailbox like the Mail Boss to protect incoming mail; (2) use the blue USPS boxes to send sensitive mail containing checks; and (3) shred all mail before discarding it. Following these three easy steps would go a long way in reducing your chances of becoming a victim of mail identity theft.