Hi there, blog followers. Sorry this “Monday” post is so late in coming. But what is an apology without excuses?
First excuse? Well, of course Monday was a holiday here at Epoch so we abandoned our computers for cookouts!
Second excuse? There are so many dang mail theft stories… really juicy ones… all across the nation this week, it took quite some time to gather them all up. We are even leaving out some of the more boring “mail reported stolen from mailbox police report incident” types! (No tears, please.)
There was even one we really wanted to include about a person who SHOT (yes, you read that right!) his neighbor over suspected mail theft, but figured we would save that one for a “Just for Fun” Friday… because everyone knows shootings are so much fun. I tell you, the heat must be making people go crazy!
Anyhow, without further ado, below are mail identity theft stories across the nation from June 29 – July 4, and one from the archives for the heck of it. Enjoy!
Mail theft easy, yields personal information, police warn
Rome News-Tribune – 7/4/10
(ROME, GEORGIA) “Identity theft isn’t solely the domain of thieves using high tech equipment to steal information directly from ATMs and computers. Local police say thieves also fall back on an old-fashioned method, stealing information out of mailboxes.
Sgt. Dan Bickers, a detective with the Floyd County Police Department, said mail thefts require no specialized skills, require very little effort and can provide access to a multitude of personal information.
Earlier this year detectives discovered several boxes of mail in the trunk of a vehicle stolen from Floyd County. Bickers said his department has been busy the last three months returning mail to the victims and counseling them on what to do if their identities were stolen.
“They just take the mail out of the box when no one is home. A lot of the victims didn’t even realize their mail was taken. They didn’t know anything was gone,” Bickers said.
Bickers says would-be thieves were using mail such as medical bills, utility bills, checks, government documents, credit card applications and junk mail to open credit card accounts in the victims’ names.
Some mail contained medical information and contained patients’ names, addresses and Social Security numbers.
“It was all test results that should have gone to the doctors, but instead was intercepted and stolen,” Bickers said.
All of the victims of the medical mail theft were notified and advised to check their bank statements and credit scores.
Bickers also said greeting cards and birthday cards that contained money or gifts had been opened and the cards discarded.
“I think they were looking for anything that could’ve been of value to them,” Bickers said.
As of late June, Bickers said none of the victims whose mail had been stolen reported suspicious credit activity. But Bickers said that doesn’t mean their credit hasn’t been compromised.
“It could take several months for something to show up on a credit report,” he said.
Mail theft is a felony, Bickers warns, as is identity theft and the lives of victims can be affected for years.
The Federal Trade Commission says there are many ways to safeguard against mail theft, including paying bills electronically or using a post office box. Also, the FTC encourages people to mail payments from the post office to avoid “check washing,” a form of theft where ink is removed from checks leaving nothing but routing numbers and the signature.
Bickers also reminds residents to remain aware of their mail.
“A lot of the victims weren’t receiving their bills, and then suddenly they would get a late notice. That is a sign that something could be happening,” he said.
Bickers said he and other officers are still trying to contact victims of the mail thefts and that if anyone believes their mail might have been stolen to contact his office at 706-235-7766.”
COMMENTS: YES! This story is right on. Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the nation, and mail theft is one of the most common ways thieves get access to your personal information. However, being vigilant with OUTGOING mail isn’t the solution. Thieves can steal checks from sent mail but they can gain much more from stealing INCOMING mail and accumulating information over time that they can then use to open multiple fraudulent accounts and ruin your good name. Victims may not have noticed anything yet, and they are lucky the mail was found stolen, otherwise they never would have known. But they need to be cautious for some time to come.
More importantly, people need to SECURE their mail. If you don’t want to use a post office box, your best option is a high security locking mailbox that can’t be fished by hand or easily pried open with a screwdriver. The Mail Boss locking security mailbox is affordable and available at your local Ace Hardware or True Value. It secures your mail and protects your identity.
Man Steals Checks from Mailboxes
KSBI 52 – 7/3/10
(MOORE, OKLAHOMA) “Police are investigating a series of mailbox thefts. What’s worse is that the suspect stole thousands of dollars worth of insurance money. Moore police say several reports have come in from residents.
They say a man named Eduardo Ramirez recently cashed the checks, however, investigators say that’s not the man’s real name. He was caught on surveillance video at a local bank and police are hoping someone recognizes him. Officials say the man may have stolen more than $50,000.
“There are also probably victims who don’t know they are victims yet, because they’re still waiting for their check and it’s just not coming. So, if they are a victim, they need to call us and let us know,” says Sgt. Jeremy Lewis. […]”
COMMENTS: Check theft from the mail is not a new thing. Thieves are savvy and can wash checks easily. Residents need to be concerned about theft of the mail, which includes sensitive information other than checks as well; in fact, mail generally includes much if not all of what criminals need to steal an identity. A locking security mailbox is a modern day necessity to prevent identity fraud.
Chop Shop and Identity theft bust in Calwa
ABC 30 – 7/2/10
(FRESNO, CALIFORNIA) “Two people are now sitting in the Fresno County Jail accused of running a chop shop. Authorities made the discovery at a home on Grove and Jackson near Calwa. […] But Fresno’s anti-theft task force says this home was not only the location of a chop shop but also a place of mail and identity fraud.
Members of Fresno’s “Help Eliminate Auto Theft” or H.E.A.T team arrested a 23-year-old woman suspected of stealing a Mercedes and Honda Friday night. That arrest allowed them to serve a search warrant across the street at a home in Southeast Fresno. Inside the garage officers found a Honda Civic literally chopped up in half as well as finding another stolen car on the street. But officers ended up finding a whole lot more once they got inside.
Fresno H.E.A.T. Supervisor, Lenny Sherman said, “We found numerous credit cards, mail theft, checks from mail theft and dumpster diving and actually the computer was up and one of the victims information was already being put into the computer by people here in the house.”
Not only were credit cards taken but officers say ID’s and social security cards were stolen […]. A 47-year-old man was also arrested. The fact that this was taking place in a neighborhood setting as opposed to a commercial area did not surprise investigators.
[…] H.E.A.T officers say Southeast Fresno has been hard hit in the past six months. As for the two suspects arrested — the woman faces multiple counts of possession of stolen property and possession of stolen vehicles. The man faces possession of stolen vehicle, owning and operating a chop shop and possession of stolen credit cards, checks, and mail.”
COMMENTS: Mail theft goes hand in hand with other crimes like methamphetamine use and distribution, and in this case auto theft. In this economy, crime is on the rise. To protect yourself and your identity, you need to be vigilant with your personal information, including your mail. Use a high security locking mailbox to prevent mail identity theft, and guard your purse/wallet. In addition, never send checks from an unsecured mailbox; instead take them to the post office. Finally, shred all sensitive documents (most of which come in your mailbox) before discarding them.
Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police closing in on mail theft suspects
San Jose Mercury News – 7/2/10
(LOS GATOS, CALIFORNIA) “Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police are investigating a mail theft incident that occurred in Monte Sereno at about 10:00 Friday morning.
According to Sgt. Steve Walpole, the man who reported the theft lives on Daves Avenue. The man’s wife apparently became suspicious when she saw a man and a woman lingering near some open mailboxes. The man confronted the suspects and they threw some mail out of their car and fled.
Walpole described the suspects as being in their 20s. “We have people of interest and hopefully an arrest is imminent,” Walpole said.
He also said mail theft is a common occurrence. “It’s a constant problem, especially up in the hills” Walpole said. “We get this all the time.”
Walpole recommended residents purchase locking mailboxes as a deterrent to mail theft. A check of www.mailboxes.com shows that locking residential mailboxes that are USPS approved cost about $125.”
COMMENTS: Yes, mail theft is a constant problem, not just in Los Gatos but across the country. Sadly, a locking mailbox is a necessity in the nation we live in. However, not all locking mailboxes will protect your mail and your identity from crooks looking to wreak havoc on your good name. For $100-$125 you can purchase a USPS approved locking mailbox, but it will likely still leave you highly vulnerable to thieves. Most locking mailboxes can be easily fished by hand or pried open with a screwdriver in just seconds. Many thieves know this, and bring a screwdriver or crow bar with them on their mail theft adventures.
A quality locking mailbox should be made of quality heavy gauge steel (not plastic, aluminum, or thin-gauge steel) and should be resistant to fishing or prying attempts. The Mail Boss by Epoch Design is made of 12- and 14-gauge galvanized steel, and cannot be fished by hand or easily pried open. You can find the Mail Boss at your local hardware store starting at $159. Some other quality locking mailboxes include the Fort Knox and the Armadillo; however, they are more expensive.
Long story short: Make sure you have a locking mailbox to protect your identity, but not just any one will do. It should stand up to the common methods thieves use to burglarize your mailbox. Also, never send sensitive mail including checks from an unsecured mailbox – take them to the post office or use online bill pay – and always shred sensitive documents (most of which come in your mailbox) before discarding them.
Stolen mail reports in Longview under investigation
Longview News-Journal – 7/2/10
(LONGVIEW, TEXAS) “Local investigators responded to a report of mail found in the roadways of Beverly, Live Oak and Carnegie streets, according to a police news release. Officials determined the mail was stolen from mailboxes on Columbia, Miami, Claredon, Stanford and Georgia streets. Owners of the mail told officers the outgoing mail was opened and checks were stolen.
The U.S. Postal Inspector’s Office in Fort Worth is investigating the thefts in conjunction with the Longview Police Department Criminal Investigations Division.
Longview police are recommending residents take mail — specifically items containing checks — to a postal drop box because of recent reports of mail theft.
Authorities also suggest handing such items directly to mail carriers.
Officials requested residents keep an eye out for possible mail thieves and to call police if they see any suspicious activity.”
COMMENTS: Mail theft is a growing problem across the nation. Being vigilant with outgoing mail is not enough, because thieves often target your INCOMING MAIL – which contains credit card statements, courtesy checks, utility bills and more – to steal your IDENTITY. A stolen check that is washed and fraudulently cashed is a pain, but a stolen identity is an absolute nightmare, and takes thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to reconcile.
Police warn of mail thefts
KLTV 7 – 7/1/10
(LONGVIEW, TEXAS) “On July 1, 2010, Longview Officers responded to a report of mail found in the roadway on Beverly, Live Oak and Carnegie Streets. Upon closer inspection, it was determined the mail had been stolen from mailboxes on Columbia, Miami, Clarendon, Stanford and Georgia Streets. Owners of the mail told officers the outgoing mail had been opened and checks had been stolen.
The United States Postal Inspector’s Office in Fort Worth is investigating the thefts in conjunction with the Longview Police Department Criminal Investigations Division.
The Longview Police Department recommends that outgoing mail, specifically items of mail containing checks, only be placed in a postal drop box or given directly to a mail carrier. Please do not leave received mail in your mailbox for extended periods of time, as anything left in a mailbox is vulnerable to thieves.
Residents are asked to keep an eye out for possible mail thieves and to call police if they see any suspicious activity.”
COMMENTS: The reason these residents knew their mail was stolen is because the thieves sorted through the mail, taking what they wanted and leaving the rest behind. In a sense, this is lucky for the victims, who now can take the necessary measures to notify their financial institutions, issue credit alerts, etc. Most victims are not as lucky. In fact, most people do not realize when their mail and identity has been stolen until it is too late. If you think about it, how would you know if your mail was taken? Especially when many thieves sort through taking what they want and leaving your junk mail. Would you be suspicious if you only received junk mail, or just think that you hadn’t gotten anything important in the mail that day?
Mail theft is on the rise across the nation, and it is one of the primary ways that crooks use to steal your identity. To protect yourself, you need to use a high security locking mailbox like the MAILBOSS to secure your incoming mail – keep your credit card statements, social security checks, etc. out of the hands of thieves. Also, never send checks from an unsecured mailbox. Bring them to the post office or better yet, use online bill pay. Finally, always shred sensitive documents (most of which come in your mailbox!) before discarding them. These practices will help keep your mail and your identity secure.
Woman indicted in mailbox thefts, fraud
Deseret News – 7/1/10
(SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH) “A Cedar City woman faces a dozen criminal charges alleging she stole checks from mailboxes and used them at several southern Utah banks.
A federal grand jury returned a 12-count indictment Wednesday charging Katherine Marie Hansen, 29, with possession of stolen mail, bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, and possession of methamphetamine.
The indictment alleges Hansen stole checks, written on other people’s bank accounts, from mail boxes or receptacles. It also alleges she forged and used or attempted to use the stolen checks, drawn on customer accounts at Wells Fargo, State Bank of Southern Utah and Mountain America Credit Union, to pay for merchandise, services and to get cash. Along with two counts of possession of stolen mail and six counts of bank fraud, Hansen is charged with two counts of aggravated identity theft. She also faces two counts of methamphetamine possession.
Police say that in addition to stealing mail from curbside mailboxes, Hansen also “fished” mail out of blue collection letter boxes.
Hansen, who is in custody, will have an initial appearance in federal court next week in St. George.
The case is being investigated by U.S. postal inspectors, the Iron County Sheriff’s Office, and the St. George Police Department.”
COMMENTS: Mail theft is such a serious and growing crime. People really need to be vigilant with their mail! Use a high security locking mailbox to protect your identity – that curbside mailbox outside your home is a treasure trove for would-be identity thieves. A quality locking mailbox should be made of steel and feature anti-pry mechanisms and resist fishing by hand. ALSO – do not send checks from an unsecured box – bring them to the post office or use online bill pay. Finally, always shred sensitive documents (most of which come in your mailbox) before discarding them.
Roseville man sentenced to 1-1/2 years for stealing cash and gift cards from mail
The Union – 6/30/10
(NEVADA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA) “Keith Allen Skipper, 35, of Roseville has been sentenced to one and a half years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release after stealing gift cards and Christmas cash from mail in Nevada and El Dorado counties. He also was ordered to pay $1,950 in restitution.
[…] On Dec. 9, 2009, Nevada County Sheriff’s deputies found Skipper with about 240 pieces of mail addressed to approximately 51 addresses, including items that had been reported stolen from a neighborhood collection box. He was charged in Nevada County Superior Court and released on bail.
While out on bail, Skipper stole more mail from residential mail boxes in El Dorado County between Dec. 20 and Dec. 22 to get Christmas cash and gift cards. El Dorado County Sheriff’s deputies stopped him Dec. 22 for a broken brake light. During a search of the vehicle, they found nearly 200 pieces of stolen mail in the front seat, and took Skipper into custody. They also found a woman’s driver’s license in Skipper’s wallet that had been stolen from the U.S. mail.
Skipper told deputies he had been looking for fast cash and gift cards. He said he had driven around looking for mailboxes to break into and had used a small pry tool and his fingers to open the boxes. […]”
COMMENTS: He used his fingers to pry open locking mailboxes. Now that is faux-security! Actually, I believe it since we have done it ourselves with the “Mail Safe” – one of our competitors boxes. (Watch the video here). Anyway, my point is that not all locking mailboxes are created equal. Many can be fished by hand or pried open with a screwdriver in just seconds. The Mail Boss offers superior security in that it cannot be fished by hand and it can withstand sustained prying attempts, because of the patented anti-pry latch locking mechanism. An anti-pry feature is important in locking mailboxes, because savvy criminals like Skipper know to how to violate “secure” mailboxes.
Officers with the West Columbia Police Department are searching for Michael Anthony Jenkins of Tremaine Court in Charlotte. Jenkins will be charged with forgery when he is arrested, officers say.
Investigators believe that Jenkins stole a check from a mailbox, changed the check so it looked like it was written to him, and cashed it at the First Community Bank on Meeting Street in West Columbia.
Officers say the check was written for $917.
Though Jenkins is from Charlotte, officers believe he may be found in Columbia or West Columbia. […] Chief Tyndall stated that Jenkins allegedly stole a check out of a mailbox and altered the check to make himself the payee. He then took the check in the amount of $917 to the First Community Bank on Meeting Street in West Columbia on May 26, 2010 where he cashed it. Tyndall stated that while Jenkins has a North Carolina address, he might still be in the Columbia area.”
COMMENTS: Many criminals target mailboxes with the flag up looking for outbound checks to steal, wash and cash fraudulently. When possible use gel ink to write checks, which makes it nearly impossible for the thieves to wash the ink. More importantly, never send checks or other sensitive documents from an unsecured mailbox. Bring them to the postal office, or better yet, use online bill pay. And finally, it is also important to secure your incoming mail, where crooks can find a treasure trove of information to use for identity theft. A high security locking mailbox can protect your privacy and your good name.
Roseville man gets prison for mail theft
ABC 10 – 6/29/10
(SACRAMENTO, CA) “A Roseville man who admitted to mail theft is headed to prison for 18 months.
U.S. District Court Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. sentenced Keith Allen Skipper, 35, Monday after the defendant reached an agreement with the federal prosecutors to plead guilty to one count of U.S. mail theft and one count of possession of stolen mail.
Skipper was also ordered to pay $1,950 in restitution and upon completion of his prison term, serve three years of probation.
According to U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner’s office, Nevada County Sheriff Department deputies found Skipper in possession of numerous pieces of mail on Dec. 9, 2009, addressed to 51 different addresses Some of the mail had been opened and some of it reported stolen from a mail collection box, authorities said.
Skipper was charged and released after posting bond. Then when El Dorado County sheriff’s deputies pulled Skipper over for a broken brake light Dec. 22, 2009, they found more stolen mail in the defendant’s car, according to the prosecution. Skipper was accused of stealing mail from El Dorado County mailboxes between Dec. 20 and 22 in order to get Christmas checks and gift cards.”
COMMENTS: 18 months in prison? He will likely be out in half that and back at it. The problem with mail theft is that thieves use the information they get to steal your identity. Almost everything a crook needs he/she can find in your unlocked mailbox. Why so many people still leave their sensitive documents out in their rural mailbox for thieves to steal is beyond me!
Most people use a paper shredder to prevent thieves from stealing their garbage, but don’t think about what they’re shredding – all the mail they receive! A high security locking mailbox is a necessity in today’s world.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Massive ID theft ring busted in Albuquerque
KOB 4 – 2/18/10
Police say more than 20 people face charges in connection with personal information and identities of hundreds of people.
The district attorney’s office says there’s no way to tally up how much money was ripped off from Albuquerque citizens and businesses, but the total could be astronomical.
The first group of suspects arrested in the ID theft ring faced a judge Thursday.
The eight suspects all face a variety of charges including fraud, forgery, ID theft, and racketeering.
The Secret Service first began investigating the case in January, after security officers at various banks reported small financial losses.
As the case unraveled, police say they learned that the suspects were allegedly manufacturing dozens of checks and credit cards and using them at local retail stores.
The DA’s office says the suspects used every method they could to obtain personal information.
Robin Hammer with the DA’s office said Thursday, “They used every single basic tactic that there is. Stealing identities from businesses, from dumpsters, from mailboxes, from any place that they could. They can buy it on the street— there’s market value for identities.”
The suspects could face more than 100 years behind bars if convicted, according to the DA.
More arrests are in the works.
Law enforcement will be contacting the victims whose names were found, but the DA’s office recommends people run a credit report if they are worried.”
COMMENTS: The DA’s office is exactly right. Identity thieves are opportunists and they will take information where they can get it, whether it is from your unlocked car or your unlocked mailbox. Identity theft prevention is key, and that includes the use of a high security locking mailbox like the Mail Boss to secure your incoming mail. Without a locking mailbox, you are vulnerable to identity theft rings and criminals who would ruin your good name.