Mail Theft Monday – 5/10/10

Lucky you, getting two weeks of Mail Theft Monday in one. To what do you owe this special privilege? Well, almost half of our office (including yours truly) was in Las Vegas last week at the National Hardware Show! This year was an exciting one; among other honors, Mail Boss received the Silver Award by NRHA for exceptional packaging. But more on that later… now, we return to the latest and greatest in mail-identity theft, for your reading pleasure!

Two arrested in mail theft case
Mohave Daily News – 5/6/10

(BULLHEAD CITY, ARIZONA) “The Bullhead City Police Department and Mohave County Sheriff’s Office, in conjunction with the United State Postal Inspection Service, arrested two Mohave Valley residents on an assortment of charges related to theft from cluster mailboxes.

On Tuesday, USPIS, BHCPD and MCSO served a search warrant at a Mohave Valley home in the 10000 block of Driftwood Circle. Investigators recovered stolen mail, burglary tools, methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. […]

Since Dec. 9, 2009, there have been 87 break-ins at cluster mail boxes along Highway 95 between Needles and Bullhead City. Each cluster box contains between 16 and 50 individual mail slots and several larger parcel boxes. […] USPIS reported that since Dec. 9, between 30 and 40 citizens have reported theft of their mail.

In February, USPIS followed up on a lead generated from an MCSO mail theft investigation. In that case, suspects stole a credit card from the mail and then accumulated $1,400 in fraudulent charges to the victim’s account. Police obtained video surveillance and then profiled the case and digital images in the media with a reward offering through Mohave Silent Witness. A tip from a citizen led to the identity of the suspect.”

COMMENTS: Cluster Box Units (CBUs), because they feature low security locks and store multiple residents’ mail, are frequently targeted by mail thieves. They can steal more mail with less risk and effort. When possible, residents should opt for individual high security locking mailboxes like the Mail Boss, which offer superior theft resistance and protection against mail identity theft.

Stolen Mail Found Years After Being Sent
KELOLAND TV – 5/5/10

(SIOUX FALLS, SOUTH DAKOTA) “Thousands of people who sent a letter or package that never made it to its destination are now getting them back. Last June, Michael Dallas Andersen of Garretson was sent to prison for stealing that mail. Andersen pleaded guilty to one count of stealing and opening mail last year.

He admitted to taking the mail between 2006 and 2008. But it wasn’t until after the case was closed that authorities found the more than 30,000 pieces of mail Andersen had stolen.

Packages are being returned to sender by the postal service, not because they had the wrong address but because they just found the mail that is nearly four years old. […] After finding the mail in February, federal investigators sifted through it, and now it is starting to be mailed back. […] Andersen was sentenced last June to one year in prison and ordered to pay $2,600 in restitution.”

COMMENTS: It is unfortunate that investigators did not discover the 30,000 pieces of mail Andersen stole until after they charged him on one count of stolen mail. This man is serving just one year in prison (probably less with “good behavior”) and will likely be returning to mail identity theft when he is released. Stories like these lend further support to the unfortunate reality that in today’s world, residents need to use a high security locking mailbox to protect their sensitive documents and prevent mail identity theft.

2 face charges in mail thefts
Courier-Post – 5/5/10

(CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY) “A husband-and-wife team allegedly stole hundreds of pieces of mail from postal trucks across the city, then recruited drug addicts and prostitutes to cash pilfered government checks worth at least $88,000, authorities said Tuesday.

Nathaniel Johnson, 42, and Lakisha Scanes, 29, treated the postal system like “a personal piggy bank,” asserted Paul J. Fishman, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey. The Branch Village residents, who are blamed for smash-and-grab burglaries of eight postal trucks, also are suspected of stealing government checks from residents’ mailboxes.

They allegedly operated the check-cashing scheme from November until last Friday, Fishman said. Both were arrested late Monday. A criminal complaint alleges ring members cashed more than 100 stolen checks, including almost 70 U.S. Treasury checks for Social Security payments, veterans’ benefits and income-tax returns. […]

The couple then obtained bogus photo IDs for check-cashers who were recruited from the city’s streets, says the complaint. The accomplices cashed the checks for a fee in Camden, Pennsylvania and Delaware, mostly at check-cashing agencies.

[…] Some check-cashers have admitted their roles in the scheme and have implicated Johnson and Scanes, according to federal complaints. One drug user, identified only as J.F., said she also provided a personal service. According to the complaint, that woman would baby-sit the couple’s son “while Nate and Lakisha would go “mail hopping’ — meaning stealing mail.””

COMMENTS: The courts should throw the book at these people, who have wreaked havoc and devastation across New Jersey. While this pair primarily targeted mail trucks (which is the first I’ve heard of this kind of theft) they also pilfered your run of the mill residential mailboxes for mail too. You can never be too safe with your personal sensitive documents, and a high security locking mail box like the Mail Boss should always be included as an essential element of comprehensive identity theft prevention.

Man sentenced in Fairbanks mail thefts
KTUU2 – 5/5/10

(FAIRBANKS, ALASKA) “A 22-year-old Russian national has been sentenced to four years of probation in connection with a mail theft ring in the Fairbanks area. Vyacheslav Malyk of Delta Junction pleaded guilty in December to second-degree felony theft.

He will be released from custody after spending the past 11 months in jail and at a halfway house. Malyk is among eight people who were accused of stealing hundreds of mail items from neighborhoods outside of the city limits in 2008. 7 of them have pleaded guilty and one case is pending.

Authorities say Malyk altered a $1,400 check to include his actual home address, then cashed the check at Wal-Mart. At Monday’s sentencing hearing, Superior Court Judge Robert Downes told Malyk he was a “lousy criminal.””

COMMENTS: Malyk is definitely a couple beers short of a six-pack. Just sayin’ Because he was so brazen in stealing a check from outgoing mail, he was easily caught and the damages were minimal. But don’t get me wrong… this mail-identity theft ring in Fairbanks was extensive and caused a lot of damage to hundreds of Fairbanks residents. I’m thinking after this whole highly publicized (thanks to the Daily News-Miner) mail theft fiasco, which goes back several years and involves many more “lousy criminals”, most of the people in Fairbanks now use the Post Office or have a locking mailbox!

Number of stolen checks continues to rise
Wilton Bulletin – 5/4/10

(WILTON, CONNECTICUT) “[…] Earlier today, Lieutenant Donald Wakeman said the number of Wilton residents reporting stolen checks has increased to 13, while three separate residents have reported checks they had mailed in early April have not yet reached their final destinations.

[…] Lt. Wakeman said together, the 13 residents have had 15 checks altered, totaling more than $34,000. If checks were stolen from the other three residents, tack on a little over $9,000 more to that amount.”

COMMENTS: I want to point out, again, that this kind of mail theft is not identity theft. It is check forgery and it is most often covered by your banks. While it is a big pain in the rear, and no fun for anyone involved, it could be much worse. If thieves get enough information from your incoming mail they can often steal your identity which wreaks total havoc on your credit score and takes tens if not hundreds of hours to rectify. That is why it is so important to secure incoming mail with a secure locking mailbox, in addition to taking precautions to send sensitive outgoing mail securely.

Ventura County Sting Finds Link to Mail Theft in Downtown L.A.
blogdowntown – 4/30/10

(LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA) “Mail stolen from the Arts District may help add mail theft charges to the results of a Ventura County operation that last week led to 94 arrests and the recovery of stolen vehicles, drugs and counterfeit money.

Mail theft had been a topic of particular interest in the neighborhood, where some residents and businesses had discovered that checks they had sent out hadn’t be reaching their destinations. A community meeting was held on the topic last month, and one local businesswoman had taken steps to preserve surveillance video that showed suspects entering her building.

The stack of stolen mail, some with checks, with addresses extending from 3rd to 6th street were discovered in a search executed by “Operation Sudden Impact,” a Ventura County investigation that started in January 2009 to recover stolen vehicles.

Over 15 months, the probe was extended to include a multitude of other crimes. […] “We now have 94 suspects,” Nafziger said today. […] The operation is the largest the county has ever conducted, and with the added evidence, mail theft charges can now be added by the United States Postal Inspection Service, a Federal law enforcement agency. […]

COMMENTS: This just goes to show you how deep-seated the connections are in many crime rings. Identity theft rings are highly complex, and often involve a multitude of other criminal elements including most often methamphetamine use and distribution. Mail thieves are not to be messed with, and residents must be vigilant to protect themselves and their identities. In this case the thefts were from condos and apartment complexes but homeowners need to be just as aware and concerned. Security locking mailboxes are a must in today’s world.

Post Office wants public’s help to catch  mail thieves: $10,000 reward offered
Simi Valley Acorn – 4/30/10

(SIMI VALLEY, CALIFORNIA) “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is requesting the public’s assistance in identifying people responsible for mail theft in Simi Valley. A reward of up to $10,000 is available for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved in the crimes.

Anyone having information about the attacks is urged to call the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at (877) 876-2455. Mail theft is a federal offense, and offenders may be imprisoned up to five years, fined or both.

[…] Do not approach suspicious individuals. Instead, note the physical description of the individual(s) and/or vehicle. Anyone who witnesses a postal crime in progress should call local police first and then call the postal inspectors. […] Postal inspectors suggest the following to keep mail safe:

  • Never send cash or coins in the mail. Use checks or money orders.
  • Promptly remove mail from the mailbox after delivery.
  • Place mail on vacation-hold at the local post office while away.
  • Deposit mail at the local post office, hand it to the letter carrier, or drop off mail in a Postal Service collection box before the last collection time.”

COMMENTS: I think they forgot to mention “Use a high security locking mailbox” – that way you can disregard #2 and #3. Just sayin’…

Action Line: Advice on avoiding mail theft
San Jose Mercury News – 4/30/10

(SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA) “[…] Your warning about mail theft was good, but it didn’t go far enough. […] If you don’t want to drive to the post office to deposit a check, then deposit it in a collection box only shortly before pickup times, or at least during daylight hours in a box in a busy shopping center when the pickup will be later that day. Most theft from collection boxes occurs overnight or on lonely stretches where the thief is unlikely to be seen or noticed.

[…] Paying bills online is very easy once it is set up with your bank. And, as far as I can tell, it is a safer way to pay bills. But here’s an idea: deposit your mail in a mail slot at your post office or hand it your mail carrier.

[…] I live in Gilroy in a rural area, where mail theft from mailboxes is common. I checked the post office website for collection box locations. There were about five listed, but I couldn’t find them. I checked with the post office and they said some of them had been removed. The parking lot for the post office in Gilroy is always crowded, and the drive-up drop box requires driving down a narrow alley. One good (?) alternative is dropping my mail in the unsecured location at the Nob Hill grocery store. As you say, the service (lack of?) from the post office is a symptom of the times. Also, we all use snail mail less and less. I pay bills online when I can, but it doesn’t work for everything. Thanks again for looking out for all of us on consumer issues.”

COMMENTS: Why, oh why, is there so much talk about securing outgoing mail but no mention of the importance of securing incoming mail. The thing to remember is that if a thief steals a check from your outgoing mail, he/she can attempt to wash it and fraudulently cash it or use it to purchase merchandise fraudulently. This creates a problem when your bills go unpaid, but more often than not your bank will not hold you responsible for the lost funds. On the other hand, if a thief steals your incoming mail, they can frequently collect enough sensitive documents to steal your identity. They may open credit card accounts in your name under a new address, run up existing lines of credit, even apply for loans. Worse, you may not even realize your mail has been stolen until several months down the road (whereas when a check is washed and stolen, it usually only takes a few days to realize what has happened.) Ultimately, your credit will be seriously damaged and you will spend tens to hundreds of hours trying to rectify the situation. Long story short, it is perhaps more important to secure incoming than outgoing mail. The best way to ensure your mail (and your identity) is safe and secure is to use a high security locking mailbox like the Mail Boss. (The Fort Knox, Armadillo, and Secure Logic are also good quality options.) Beware, though, of low-security locking mailboxes that allow thieves to fish out your mail by hand or pry open your mailbox with a screwdriver.

Carmel Cops: Magazine salesman found with stolen mail
The Journal News– 4/29/10

(CARMEL, NEW YORK) “A Michigan teenager who was selling magazines door to door in violation of a town permit was found carrying outgoing mail stolen from residential mailboxes, Chief Michael Johnson said today.

[Police] responded, found Hinton and charged him with violating the town ordinance on peddling without a permit. While searching Hinton, the officers found a check made out to the Starr Ridge Water District by a town resident and a letter addressed to the town’s Recreation Department that had an application with a resident’s confidential information, Johnson said.

Police contacted the two residents and learned that they had placed outgoing mail in their mailboxes to be picked up Tuesday by their letter carrier.

Police additionally charged Hinton with misdemeanor criminal possession of a stolen property and notified an official with the U.S. Postal Service. Johnson said postal officials are conducting their own investigation and Hinton could face federal charges.”

COMMENTS: Any mail that is placed in your mailbox – whether incoming or outgoing – is vulnerable to mail theft. To prevent theft of incoming mail, you should use a high security locking mailbox like the Mail Boss. To prevent theft of outgoing mail, you should bring your mail directly to a blue USPS box, or better, inside the Post Office.

Resident’s identity may have been stolen
Observer Eccentric – 4/29/10

(LIVONIA, MICHIGAN) “A Livonia man suspects someone stole his identity after his mail was forwarded to an address of an abandoned house in Redford.

The man, who lives in the Seven Mile-Inkster road area, reported to police that his mail was diverted to a home on Centralia. After he found out that his mail was forwarded there, he went to the address to get his mail, which included credit card offers. Even his newspaper was delivered there. The man notified the Livonia post office and police advised him to notify the Redford post office. Police continued to investigate.”

COMMENTS: Mail often includes some of our most sensitive personal documents, which is why it makes no sense to receive mail in unlocked mailboxes. In this case, a locking mailbox would not have prevented this Livonia man’s headache. However, a security locking mailbox is a necessity in today’s world, given the epidemic of identity theft.

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