Mail Theft Monday – It’s November!

Can you believe it’s November already? Many of us spent last week in Orlando at the Ace Hardware Fall Convention, so we apologize for the lapse in posting. Next week, we will return to your regularly scheduled Mail Theft Monday. But for today, we’ll include the mail-identity theft stories that have occurred in the past two weeks from across the nation. There’s quite a few, so we’ll get right to it!

Taking Action: Keeping Your Identity Safe From Thieves
Action 3 – 10/29/10

(OMAHA, NEBRASKA) “”I was pretty furious and mad,” says Sean Corriveau.  Thieves broke into his car in March.  They stole four-thousand dollars worth of his personal belongings and his ID.

“I opened my car door and I noticed everything was gone,” says Corriveau.

Recently, he received a call from police.  They told him his stolen ID was used to cash fraudulent checks.

He’s just one of 27 victims of identity and mail theft police connected to the house at 4524 Wirt Street.  Omaha Police say they found victims’ stolen property inside after a search of the house.

Police arrested John Cronin and Charles Elmore in connection to the thefts.

Thieves call it red flagging.  They look for mailboxes with the red flag up, signaling outgoing mail.  They steal the bill payments and use the account information from the stolen checks and personal information from stolen IDs to make new checks.

Postal Inspector, Perry Mitchell, says mail and ID theft is a growing crime.  He says leaving checks in your mailbox puts you at risk.

“If they are going to send financial related mail, they have to be concerned and they should be trying to maintain as much safety as possible in doing that,” says Mitchell.

Corriveau says he wouldn’t want this to happen to anyone else.  “Just lock everything up and make sure it’s secure so no one else can steal it or break into your car.”

Mitchell says there are ways to keep your bills safe.  He says drop off your financial mail in an official drop-off box or hand your mail directly to a worker at the post office.  He suggests to double check with your bank to make sure the checks end up at the right place.”

COMMENTS: Good advice here, but just come out and say it. In today’s world, people need to be using a high security locking mailbox to prevent would-be identity thieves from stealing your mail. That pretty much aligns with the main advice in this story: maintain as much safety as possible, just lock everything up, make sure it’s secure!

Remember, a truly secure locking mailbox should meet certain standards: (1) be made of heavy gauge steel, not aluminum or plastic; (2) be able to withstand sustained prying attempts; and (3) be safe from fishing by hand. One such mailbox is the Mail Boss, available in Omaha at your local Ace Hardware or True Value.

Police Bust Crime Ring in Fresno
CBS 47 – 10/29/10

(FRESNO, CALIFORNIA) “Fresno police break up an elaborate crime ring involving stolen cars, electronics and stolen identities. It was all based out of a home near Cedar and Gettysburg Avenues.

The bust proved to be substantial, allowing police to close many theft cases in both Fresno and Clovis. Fresno police have suspected the house off Norwich Avenue for some time and investigators had been keeping an eye on it because they believed it was a chop shop.

[…] A total of five people living at the Norwich home were arrested. Three others were picked up at a gas station off Willow and Holland and one other person at a nearby home. […]

Investigators also discovered more than 500 cases of identity theft and recovered stolen mail, checkbooks, flash drives and driver’s licenses. […]”

COMMENTS: This is a highly elaborate identity theft scheme with multiple facets. However, even the most complex identity theft rings seem to have elements that are very basic, like mail theft. To cover all your bases, you need to use a high security locking mailbox to keep your mail out of the hands of would-be identity theft. In the Fresno area, the MailBoss secure mailbox is available at Fresno Ag Hardware, Shield Security, and Mayson Ace Hardware.

Two men suspected of stealing from mailboxes and fraud arrested
The Valley News – 10/28/10

(RIVERSIDE, CALIFORNIA) “Two Riverside men suspected of stealing items from mailboxes and using the information to commit fraud were under arrest today.

Flabio Israel Santos, 25, and Ivan Tapia, 28, were taken into custody Wednesday on suspicion of possession of stolen property and conspiracy. Both are being held at the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility in Banning — Santos in lieu of $7,500 bail, and Tapia in lieu of $5,000.

According to Riverside police, an officer stopped the suspects for an alleged moving violation in the area of Jane and Magnolia avenues. While questioning the men, the officer noticed tools and mail in the vehicle and alerted detectives investigating a series of mail thefts throughout the city, said Lt. Victor Williams.

“In some cases, the thieves would pry the rear panel off the community mailboxes and steal the contents,” Williams said. “They would then use the personal information obtained from the mail to commit various types of fraud.”

According to the lieutenant, detectives searched one suspect’s residence and located items believed to have been stolen during mailbox break-ins, including an Applie iPhone.

COMMENTS: Thefts from community mailboxes are very common because thieves only have to violate one lock and then they can access everyone’s mail. It is also very easy for thieves to target unlocked rural mailboxes to steal sensitive documents for identity theft. The best solution to prevent mail identity theft is a high quality locking mailbox like the Mail Boss that can’t be easily pried open with a screwdriver. In Riverside, you can find the MailBoss at your local Ace Hardware.

Prineville meth bust turns up stolen mail
The Bulletin – 10/28/10

(BEND, OREGON) “A 30-year-old Prineville man was arrested Wednesday morning after a month long police investigation into methamphetamine distribution.

Eric James Durbin was arrested at about 5 a.m. Wednesday after Prineville police and members of the Central Oregon Drug Enforcement Team and the Central Oregon Emergency Response Team served a search warrant at his home on Southeast Sixth Street, according to a news release from the Prineville Police Department.

Police reported they found stolen items, including more than 100 pieces of mail believed to have been taken recently from homes in Crook County. Durbin was lodged in the Crook County jail on suspicion of frequenting a place where controlled substances are used and violating his parole.

Police are looking for two other men they call persons of interest in the drug distribution investigation. Both were recently staying in the 1200 block of Southeast Sixth Street.

Malcolm Scott Harpole, 28, is 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighs about 160 pounds. He has brown hair and blue eyes. Kass Michael Hoffman, 28, is 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs about 185 pounds. He has brown hair and brown eyes. […[”

COMMENTS: This is not surprising, as methamphetamine and mail theft are intricately connected. Meth junkies steal mail that they can then sell for cash or trade for drugs. Then higher ups – still in the meth networks – can try to use the stolen mail for identity theft. Mail theft is attractive to meth users for many reasons. The nature of the high lends itself to tedious tasks like going from mailbox to mailbox for hours on end stealing mail, piecing together documents, and so on. In addition, unlike home invasion or other “violent” crimes, mail theft is relatively low-risk and rarely punished with more than a slap on the wrist. (For more on this connection, click here).

With the growth of methamphetamine abuse and the rise of mail theft, you need to be aware of the steps necessary to protect your identity. First and foremost, use a high security locking mailbox like the Mail Boss to keep would-be identity thieves from obtaining your personal documents from your mailbox. In Bend, you can find the Mail Boss mailbox at Ace Hardware, Fred Meyer, or Big R.

Beware of mail thieves
KOMO 4 – 10/26/2010

(SEATTLE, WASHINGTON) “[…] Box holders are urged to verify any missing mail and file a theft and vandalism report. The feds are still investigating, and following up possible suspect leads.

In the meantime, another neighborhood to the north has a different kind of mail theft to worry about. Thieves are cruising Shoreline neighborhoods to steal outgoing mail.

If you’re still leaving outgoing mail in your box for the letter carrier to pick up, you’re asking for trouble. Thieves steal outgoing checks from your mail box, chemically wash away the ink, then write out the checks to themselves.

As Chad Ross will tell you, it only takes one incident to understand the risk. The crooks stole his outgoing bill payments — three personal checks.

“Somebody probably drove up and down the street and saw the flag up, saw free mail and stole it out of our mail box,” he said. “We got ripped off. It looks like about up to $1,200 right now.” That’s $1,200 of Ross’ money now gone.

That’s bad enough, but I had to break more bad news. Ross’ Shoreline neighborhood is a frequent target. I first sounded the alert last January when mail thieves ripped off people in the same Shoreline neighborhood that got hit this month. And it’s happening in neighborhoods across the state every day.

So if you’ve been leaving outgoing mail in your mailbox, picture your checks and personal information in the hands of a drug addict or identity thief.

If you can, get a locking mailbox. But check with your postmaster first to make sure the box is approved. […]”

COMMENTS: This is right in our back yard! A couple things…

First, this story advises mailbox owners to “verify any missing mail and file a theft and vandalism report”. And how, may I ask, are individuals supposed to know if any mail is missing? There are so many more victims of mail theft who do not realize their mail has been stolen! Most people do not know what is coming in the mail each day. How could you? Only 35% of victims of identity theft know how their information was compromised, which leads me to believe that mail-identity theft is much more common than people realize.

Second, though this news report talks alot about securing outgoing mail, it is equally important to secure incoming mail which has sensitive information like bank statements, credit card offers, medical bills and other documents that can be used for identity theft. A high security locking mailbox like the Mail Boss that can’t be easily pried open or fished by hand is a must have with the prevalence of identity fraud and theft today.

If you live in Shoreline and do not have a high security locking mailbox, you are highly vulnerable to mail theft. To stop would-be identity thieves, you can get the Mail Boss which secures incoming mail. You can find the Mail Boss in Shoreline at Dunn Lumber or Bulger Safe and Lock.

Mailbox Break-Ins Reported In Prineville Area
My Central Oregon – 10/26/10

(PRINEVILLE, OREGON) “The Crook County Sheriff’s Office is looking into several recent mailbox break-ins. Investigators said there have been at least four reports of people prying open groups of locked metal mailboxes. Damage to the mailboxes is estimated around $2,000. Investigators are reminding victims to watch their personal information, such as credit card receipts, social security information, closely so they don’t become a victim of identity theft. […]”

COMMENTS: Identity thieves in Prineville are targeting locked cluster boxes to steal mail. Thieves often target clusterboxes (also known as CBUs) because if they can violate the single lock on the box, they have access to dozens of people’s mail. Also, the locking mechanisms on CBUs are rarely high security. It’s a “more bang for the buck” kind of scenario that leaves residents who are required to use a CBU vulnerable to mail-identity theft. If you have the choice, it is always wise to opt for a residential high security locking mailbox like the Mail Boss that cannot be easily pried open.

Ex-Senator Qutub: Kitzhaber veto of anti-mail theft bill; John Kitzhaber veto of anti-mail theft bill showed his true colors
The Oregon Catalyst – 10/26/10

(OREGON) “The experience of serving with John Kitzhaber as Oregon State governor was one of utter frustration. The man was one of the most stubborn people I have ever had the (dis)pleasure of working with.

Just one of the many examples is the Senate bill I sponsored (SB440) in the 1997 Legislative Session at the request of a Federal Postal Inspector. The bill basically made stealing mail a crime in Oregon. You might ask, is it not already a crime to steal mail? Well, yes, but it is a federal crime and local or state law enforcement cannot arrest someone or prosecute them for stealing mail, that has to be done by Federal authorities.

After hearing heart-wrenching testimony from individuals who had checks stolen from their mail boxes, and with local law enforcement’s endorsement of the measure, the committee passed the bill, the legislation went to both chambers and passed. Then it met with Kitzhaber’s (Dr. No) veto pen. No explanation except that word was he didn’t like the sponsor (me). Good reason don’t you think?”

COMMENTS: Sounds like another politician willing to sacrifice good law-making in order to insult a political foe, but I digress. The underlying point here is that mail theft is a huge problem across Oregon state, so much that it has become a political issue. Politicians can gain favor with constituents if they take an aggressive stance on a real and growing problem: mail-identity theft. While we believe it couldn’t hurt if states could prosecute mail thieves, the best way to stop mail theft is not with prosecution but rather prevention. A good locking security mailbox goes a long way in safeguarding your identity.

Blotter: Mail tampering
San Jose Mercury News – 10/25/10

(LOS GATOS, CALIFORNIA) “[…] Mail tampering–On Oct. 19 at 11:08 a.m. on Harding Avenue. A resident’s mail was stolen. At 11:13 a.m. police took another report of stolen mail, this time on Los Gatos Boulevard. […]”

COMMENTS: Mail theft is highly common in Los Gatos, California. Thieves target your incoming mail to steal sensitive information for identity theft. To protect yourself, use a high security locking mailbox to secure incoming mail, including your bank statements, credit card offers, courtesy checks and more. The Mail Boss is a high security mailbox that can’t be fished by hand or easily pried open with a screwdriver. In the Los Gatos area, you can find the MailBoss at Los Gatos Ace Hardware and Rural Supply Ace Hardware.

Valley woman arrested with stolen Jeep, meth, mail
The Spokesman-Review – 10/22/10

(SPOKANE, WASHINGTON) “A 32-year-old Spokane Valley woman was arrested early today while she was gassing up a stolen Jeep in the Wandermere area, Spokane sheriff’s deputies said.

Genevieve Justine Willyard, of Spokane Valley, was arrested on outstanding warrants, possession of methamphetamine and possession of a stolen vehicle. […]

Deputies found a baggie of suspected methamphetamine inside the vehicle and a loaded syringe in her jacket along with a second syringe in her purse. She also had stolen mail and a can of stolen “fix-a-flat” compound in her pants. A third syringe was later found in a door pocket. […]

Anyone who may have had mail stolen recently in north Spokane County should call Crime Check at [509] 456-2233. […]”

COMMENTS: Methamphetamine abuse and mail theft go hand in hand, with criminals often fueling their addiction by stealing mail for identity theft. To protect yourself, use a high security locking mailbox like the MailBoss that can’t be fished by hand or easily pried open with a screwdriver. Also, never send checks from an unsecured mailbox and always shred sensitive documents (most of which come in your mailbox) before discarding them.

In Spokane, the Mail Boss locking security mailbox is available at Ace Hardware and Fred Meyer.

Reno mail thief sentenced to life

The Reno Gazette-Journal – 10/22/10

(RENO, NEVADA) “A 51-year-old career criminal was sentenced to life in prison Friday for his latest crime spree involving mail fraud.

Reno resident Philip Stott, a 14-time felon, was sentenced as a habitual criminal by Washoe District Judge Patrick Flanagan who ordered he serve a total of at least 14 years in prison before he is eligible for parole. Stott had earlier pleaded guilty to two counts of burglary related to stealing mail from mailboxes, and then cashing checks he found by forging names.

Detectives in the Repeat Offender Program had been investigating a series of mail thefts and fraudulent check activity between August 2009 and January. They were able to identify Stott as the suspect, and in February watched him as he stole mail from several mailboxes in west Reno, authorities said.

Following his arrest, he was indicted by a federal grand jury for bank fraud, aggravated identity theft and theft and receipt of stolen mail. He faces a Nov. 15 arraignment in Reno federal court.

In the indictment, he is accused of cashing a check on someone else’s account and using a false name, to which he provided bank tellers a fake identification card.

He also is accused of possessing a check that was mailed to the Washoe County Treasurer by a Reno citizen.

Deputy District Attorney Zach Young said Stott has been in prison eight separate times since 1993 for various property-related and theft convictions.”

COMMENTS: Wow! Life in prison? That’s an unusually harsh sentence for a mail thief. It is good to see some serious punishment handed down to a repeat offender. Mail theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country, and to protect yourself you need to use a high security locking mailbox like the MailBoss.

Dickinson homeowner catches mailbox thieves on camera
ABC 13 – 10/22/10

(DICKINSON, TEXAS) “When thieves targeted a Dickinson man’s mailbox, he took a high-tech route of trying to catch a crook. When Ricky Lundstrom had had enough, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

He said, “Got tired of my mail getting stolen and I wanted to catch it on tape and get some evidence.”

At least since June, thieves cruising his mailbox-lined street in Dickinson are looking for their sign that someone is sending out bills.

“When you raise your red flag, that’s their red flag to, ‘Hey come hit their mailbox,'” Lundstrom said.

At least three different checks have been stolen from his mailbox. Out of frustration Lundstrom purchased and installed a multi-camera surveillance system, complete with night vision.

Within days his thief was on camera, shiny wheels, sunroof and all. A Toyota sedan with a two tone paint job is caught on camera rolling up and someone pulls his mail out.

Weeks later he strikes again. This time someone in the back seat hangs out the window and steals his outgoing checks.

Lundstrom said, “We closed our checking account out that we mailed that motorcycle payment in. We worried they were going to get into our account, because they had routing numbers and check numbers bank numbers all that information.”

With evidence in hand, Lundstrom says he reported the problem to his post office and was told it was a problem in the area but no one ever showed up to talk to him or review the tape. He also filed a report with the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office and gave them the video. But the mailbox bandit is still on the loose.

After our calls to the postal inspection service, two postal detectives did visit Lundstrom’s home. However, they don’t keep a file of complaints and could not accurately tell us if complaints have been made in Dickinson. The Galveston County Sheriff’s Office says they are working on the case. Mailbox theft is a federal crime.”

COMMENTS: Thieves are not just targeting your mailbox to steal outgoing mail. They are also looking to steal incoming mail for identity theft. Your mail includes bank account statements, credit card offers, utility bills and other sensitive personal information that can be used to steal your identity. To protect yourself from mail theft, (1) use a high security locking mailbox like the MailBoss security mail box that can’t be fished by hand or easily pried open with a screwdriver; (2) never send sensitive mail from an unsecured mailbox – bring checks to the post office or use online bill pay; and (3) always shred sensitive documents (most of which come in your mailbox) before discarding them.

Women guilty in mail, identity theft scam
The Spokesman-Review – 10/21/10

(SPOKANE, WASHINGTON) “Two Spokane women who stole mail to perpetuate an identity theft scheme aimed at fueling a methamphetamine addiction pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court.

Jacquelyn A. Crawford, 40, and Charlene M. Haggard, 43, pilfered bank account numbers and used stolen driver’s licenses to manufacture and pass more than 100 counterfeit checks that bilked Spokane area businesses of about $40,000.

The two ransacked rural mail boxes and prowled cars from February until April, when investigators searched Haggard’s home at 5904 N. Regal St. and Crawford’s room at the Apple Tree Inn, 9508 N. Division Street. Crawford said she was “kind of relieved” when she was taken into custody, investigators said.

“She just began injecting methamphetamine, so in a way she was thankful she as caught,” Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Detective Dean Meyer said in May.

Crawford and Haggard pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 17; they’re incarcerated at the Spokane County Jail. Their plea agreements call for each to serve prison time, pay restitution to their victims and forfeit criminal proceeds, including property obtained with counterfeit checks. […]”

COMMENTS: Stealing your mail is one of the most common ways thieves obtain your personal information for identity theft. Methamphetamine addicts can trade stolen mail for drugs or cash, and often target your mailbox to get their next fix. Use a high security locking mailbox like the Mail Boss to prevent mail-identity theft.

Cape Coral mail thief gets bagged
NBC 2 – 10/21/10

Santos-mail thief(CAPE CORAL, FLORIDA) “A man was caught stealing mail after being chased down by neighbors late Wednesday evening, police say.

Authorities say Garrett Varnadoe was outside of his house smoking a cigarette when he saw 37-year-old Juan Rafael Santos digging through his neighbor’s mail.

“Just as he opened my neighbors mailbox I yelled, ‘What are you doing?'” he said. “At that point he threw the papers in the air like confetti and took off running.”

Varnadoe’s neighbor, Joey Woodrum, joined in the chase after Varnadoe yelled for him to come outside, police say.

While chasing Santos, they managed to run in front of police officers in their vehicle, waving them down to join the chase.

After police caught up to Santos, the report states he denied doing anything wrong, stating he was just out for a walk.

Neighbors say they think Santos was after personal information. But he told police he just wanted the coupons.

Santos is charged with Petit Larceny and Loitering.”

COMMENTS: Thanks to watchful neighbors, Santos was apprehended. However, there are plenty of Santos out there stealing mail to obtain your personal information for identity theft. Vigilance is key! In this news report, the authorities say “keep your doors locked to your house and car” but it is imperative to also lock your mailbox!

Comprehensive identity theft prevention requires the use of a high security locking mailbox to protect incoming mail. In addition, you should never send checks or sensitive mail from an unsecured mailbox. Take bill payments directly to the post office, or use online bill pay – it’s more secure. Finally, shred all sensitive documents (most of which come in your mailbox) before discarding them.

Lake Forest Park Police Blotter 10-4 to 10-10
Shoreline Area News – 10/21/10

(LAKE FOREST PARK, WASHINGTON) “[…] Mail theft, ID theft […]
10-4…180xx 53 NE. Suspected fraud, ID theft. […]
10-7…204xx 55 NE. Someone made charges on caller’s bank account for $516.
10-8…37xx NE 157. Fraudulent charges on Visa.[…]”

COMMENTS: To stop mail theft, use a high security mailbox like the Mail Boss that can’t be fished by hand or easily pried open with a screwdriver. Near Lake Forest Park, you can find the Mail Boss at True Value in Mount Lake Terrace or Dunn Lumber in Shoreline.

Sheriff’s Beat
Tahlequah Daily Press – 10/19/10

(TAHLEQUAH, OKLAHOMA) “[…] Kathi Ross told deputies Saturday about mail being stolen. […]”

COMMENTS: Tahlequah Oklahoma… population 14,458. Just goes to show you mail theft is happening across the country in big cities and small towns alike. “That doesn’t happen in our town – it’s rural” just doesn’t apply anymore. No one is safe from mail-identity theft, and to protect yourself you need to use a high security locking mailbox to prevent thieves from stealing your most sensitive documents.

Mail Theft Reported In Lakewood Neighborhood
CBS 4 – 10/18/10

(LAKEWOOD, COLORADO) “As postal inspectors look into reports of mail theft in Lakewood neighbors are wondering if the crimes could be connected to the November election.

On Friday thieves hit mailboxes off Fenton Drive. Neighbors found their mailboxes hanging open and empty.

While absentee ballots were among the mail that was stolen, police and postal inspectors can’t say for sure if the ballots were the motivation for these thefts. Officials did say mail theft becomes more common this time of year with the holidays ramping up, gifts going out and credit cards offers pouring in.

“(Absentee ballots) are the way we vote and I’m concerned that there was a political motive to take the mail,” resident Larry Finch told CBS4. “It’s interesting that it was taken that day when people were getting ballots.”

Mail theft is a federal offense.

“Most of these types of situations where you have a theft, they are looking for a financial instrument: a check, statement, cash. We never recommend sending cash. In this situation the ballots may be a collateral damage,” U.S. Postal Inspector Rich Sheehan said.

Police are urging anyone who believes their mail, or a voter ballot has been stolen to report it immediately.”

COMMENTS: There was a similar incident in Oregon where mail was stolen including ballots. However ultimately the victims ended up having their financial information compromised so it appears the thefts were not politically motivated.

In fact, mail theft is one of the most common ways thieves steal your sensitive information for identity theft (according to Javelin Strategy). In all likelihood, the missing ballots are a coincidence. Most often thieves take everything and discard what is not useful to them for identity theft.

Victims should issue a fraud alert immediately, and to prevent mail-identity theft, use a high security locking mailbox like the Mail Boss that can’t be fished by hand or easily pried open with a screwdriver. You can find the MailBoss at Lake Ridge Ace Hardware in Lakewood Colorado.

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