Mail Theft Monday PART 2 – 8/23/10

Without further ado, here is the second installment of this week’s Mail Theft Monday… More of the same.

Guilty plea in D.C. identity thefts
The Washington Post – 8/19/10

(WASHINGTON DC, DISTRICT of COLUMBIA) “A District woman pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy and fraud in connection with a credit card and identity theft ring operating out of Northwest Washington.

The ring charged $89,000 to nearly 200 companies and individuals by stealing mail from residential mailboxes, credit card receipts from Johnson’s Flower shops in Tenleytown and Kensington and a medical office in Friendship Heights, according to authorities.

Dionne N. Witherspoon, 38, of the 1300 block of 6th Street NW, admitted running the ring from December 2006 through March 2010 with an unindicted co-conspirator identified in court papers as “R.G.R.M.”

Witherspoon faces a likely sentence of up to 121 months in prison and a fine of up to $150,000 under U.S. sentencing guidelines. The maximums allowed under law are 20 years and $250,000.

Witherspoon had co-conspirators obtain victims’ identification and bank account information, then accept delivery of merchandise bought with the proceeds at their homes, prosecutors said. The ring also stole credit card receipts and prescriptions from a CVS Pharmacy at 13th and U Streets NW and student information from Howard University.

The stolen information was used to make transactions on legitimate credit accounts maintained by victims, to open on-line credit accounts and to tap “pay-by-phone” checking account payments.

Witherspoon gave co-conspirators a cut of merchandise, “discounted” payments of utility and cell phone bills and D.C. parking tickets — whose balance was paid by stolen funds.

Others who have pleaded guilty in the case and who are cooperating pending sentencing are Kimberly Hatton, 41, , and Peeair Bassil, 42, of Washington, and LaKisha Williams, 34, of Oxon Hill.”

COMMENTS: Note, the ring obtained much of their information “by stealing mail from residential mailboxes.” The rest of the information they stole was also in the low-tech form – paper receipts. While identity theft invokes visions of “cyber” high-tech crimes, research actually indicates that the majority of ID theft is perpetuated the old-fashioned way. This story underscores the importance of safeguarding your personal physical information. A fundamental component of identity theft prevention is the use of a high security locking mailbox to secure your incoming mail.

Sheriff: 4 arrested in southern Ohio mail thefts
WFMJ – 8/19/10

(LOGAN, OHIO) “Four people have been arrested in the investigation into mail thefts from homes in southern Ohio.

Hocking County Sheriff Lanny North says the three men and a woman were taken into custody Tuesday near the community of Rockbridge. He says a search of a vehicle recovered several pieces of stolen mail.

Detectives believe the suspects are connected to a recent rash of thefts from mailboxes in Hocking County and neighboring Fairfield County.

North says the three men, ranging in age from 28 to 40, have been charged with breaking and entering. He says the 23-year-old woman was arrested on a warrant for a probation violation.”

COMMENTS: Glad to see these mail ID thieves have been apprehended. However, mail identity theft is a growing problem and residents need to take measures to protect themselves. The first defense: a high security locked mailbox like the MailBoss that can’t be fished by hand or easily pried open with a screwdriver. Thieves target your unlocked mailbox to steal bank statements, credit card offers, courtesy checks, social security statements and more. Lock up your mailbox to prevent identity theft.

Weatherford Police Monday crime log
The Weatherford Democrat – 8/18/10

(WEATHERFORD, TEXAS) “The following offenses were observed or reported to the Weatherford Police Department on Monday Aug. 16.

Identity Theft — Aug. 16, 600 Bryan St., a complainant reported that after receiving a letter from a collection company she discovered that an unknown suspect had used her Social Security number to obtain a cellular telephone account without her permission.

Criminal Mischief — Aug. 13, 1400 Ft. Worth, a complainant reported that between Aug. 7 and Aug. 10 unknown suspect(s) had damaged a locking mailbox by breaking the lock with an unknown object.

COMMENTS: Funny that they call breaking into a locking mailbox “criminal mischief” – last time I checked, that’s a federal offense. Included the “identity theft” report as well to point out that the victim most likely doesn’t know how her information was compromised. In fact, most victims don’t. First place I’d check? The mailbox. It’s easy for thieves to target your unlocked mailbox to find bank account statements and more, and they can use the information for identity theft. Often victims don’t know their information has been taken until it is too late. The best defense is a high security locking mailbox like the mailbox to keep criminal hands off your personal mail.

Tips To Prevent Mail Theft, A Growing Trend In Long Beach
Long Beach News – 8/18/10

(LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA) “Mail theft is on the rise in the city, says the Long Beach Police Department, and residents are urged to take the following precautions in protecting themselves.

Thieves throughout the city have taken to stealing mail that may contain important checks or payments, particularly those earmarked for mortgage lenders, credit card companies and financial institutions. Do not leave your outgoing mail hanging exposed from a residential mailbox.
Police advise residents to take the following precautions:

  • Do not write account, driver’s license or social security numbers on your checks
  • If possible, satisfy payments on-line or at your creditor’s website
  • Place or deposit outgoing mail in a mail slot located inside a postal facility or hand it to your neighborhood postal carrier
  • When ordering checks from your financial institution, request the secure type that cannot be altered
  • Do not send cash in the mail
  • Retrieve mail from your mailbox promptly after delivery

If you’ve become a victim of mail fraud, report the incident to the Long Beach Police Department and the United States Postal Service. Click here for United States Postal Inspection Service tips to prevent mail fraud and call the LBPD Forgery/Fraud Detail at 562.570.7330 with any questions.”

COMMENTS: Good advice, for the most part. But “Retrieve your mail promptly”? Seriously? Many mail thieves are so brazen that they follow the postal trucks. With ID theft at an all time high, people need to be vigilant. Your unlocked mailbox is one of the easiest ways for thieves to steal your personal information for identity theft. They can find bank account numbers, credit card statements, courtesy checks, social security statements and more all in your mailbox. To prevent mail identity theft, use a high security locking mailbox like the Mail Boss that cannot be fished by hand or easily pried open with a screwdriver. The Mail Boss is available at your local Ace Hardware or True Value.

Homewood police warns of mailbox thieves
WBRC FOX – 8/18/10

(HOMEWOOD, ALABAMA) “Police are warning people about thieves stealing mail out of mailboxes, which could include personal information.

At least two incidents have happened in Homewood, criminals stealing mail, getting away with checks written by homeowners. Investigators are urging homeowners to be careful when they put any sort of check, payment of any personal information in the mailbox.

Over the last week, several people in Homewood and Vestavia have been ripped off. Police say female suspects could be using homeless people to take a doctored up check into a bank, trying to get quick cash.

When your power, gas, phone or water bill is due, sometimes the easiest thing to do is put the check in your mailbox. Police say that’s not always the safest way. Homewood resident Jay Burnett, along with many others, take their bills directly to the post office, instead of leaving it in his mailbox.

“Any bills that we can, I carry to the post office and put directly in the post box,” Burnett said.

Jim Daniell, who also lives in the neighborhood where the crimes happened off crest drive in Homewood, says he’s a bit surprised to hear the news.

“We take em to the post office, never leave it in the mailbox to be mailed,” Daniell said. “Precautionary just to be safe, no use pressing the issue.”

Kisha Thomas takes her safety precautions a step further, not only paying her bills online, but also paying for a PO Box for her mail to be delivered.

“I don’t have stuff coming to my home, its unfortunate we have to think that way, I buy a P.O. Box for that reason,” Thomas said. “At least here at the P.O. Box I control when I come and get my stuff out of the mail and I have a key to my box.”

Sgt. Andrew Didcoct, with the Homewood Police Department says using common sense is key. People are being urged not to put mail early in the morning or overnight.

“Don’t put the flag up to alert the mailman because you’re also alerting everyone else,” Didcoct said.”

COMMENTS: It is important to be vigilant with outgoing mail. Never send sensitive mail including checks from an unlocked box; instead, bring it to the post office or use online bill pay. However, it is equally if not more important to be vigilant with incoming mail. Thieves are targeting your unlocked mailbox to steal your bank statements, credit card offers, social security statements, courtesy checks, and more. Your mailbox offers a wealth of sensitive information thieves can use for identity theft. In today’s world, we can no longer use unlocked mailbox. Get a PO Box like Thomas, or get a locking mailbox. Either way, lock it up!

A locking mailbox is a sound investment in mail identity theft prevention and peace of mind. Be sure you get one made of quality materials, not thin gauge metal or plastic that can be easily compromised. Also, make sure it can’t be fished by hand or easily pried open with a screwdriver. The Mail Boss locking security mailbox is a high quality secure mailbox that is affordable, and available at your local Ace Hardware or True Value.

Three men charged with stealing credit, debit cards from South Florida mailboxes: More than $200,000 spent with stolen credit and debit cards
Sun-Sentinel – 8/18/10

(SOUTH FLORIDA) “The U.S. Attorney’s Office has arrested two men charged with stealing credit and debit cards from curbside mailboxes in South Florida and using them to blow through more than $200,000.

Ricardo Lee Penn, 47, of Wellington, and Jamaal Willie Williams, 24, of Miami, are charged with conspiracy, mail theft, unauthorized use of access devices and aggravated identity theft.

A third co-defendant, Dorian Jerrell Cawley, 25, also of Wellington, has also been charged in the case but was still being sought late Tuesday.

Curbside mailbox thefts are surprisingly rare, according to the U.S. Postal Inspector’s Office in Miramar.

“It’s not rampant, but it does come in waves,” said Postal Inspector Blad Rojo. “For the most part we catch these guys. ID theft comes in so many ways, this is just one.”

A 2009 study by Javelin Strategy and Research indicates only 3 percent of identity theft is linked to “paper mail,” according to the American Bankers Association.

But mailboxes in Wellington, Weston and other affluent areas in South Florida are targeted more often because of the perception that residents receive more financial offers, Rojo said.

Penn, Williams and Cawley are accused of stealing the identities of at least four people. Each faces up to 22 years in prison if convicted on all four counts.

Penn and Williams made their initial appearances in federal court on Tuesday and are being held pending a detention hearing on Monday at 10 a.m.

Federal investigators say between Aug. 1, 2008, and July 23, Penn, Williams and Cawley used the stolen cards to make purchases at area stores and restaurants, get cash advances and buy $500 money orders that they then cashed.

One victim lost $120,000, according to the complaint affidavit filed in the case.

Experts say there are several ways to guard against curbside mailbox theft.

“The main thing is, don’t use your curbside mailbox for outgoing mail,” said Palm Beach County Consumer Affairs Director Dennis Moore.

Other recommendations include giving your mail to a letter carrier, dropping it in a blue curbside mailbox or at the post office and alerting the Postal Service to any address change or vacation plans.

Also, don’t send cash or coins through the mail and call the issuing agency right away if any anticipated check, credit card or other valuable mail arrives late.

[…] Financial information is the most sought-after by identity thieves, according to Rojo.

“The financial industry still uses the mail service a lot [because] mail is most effective [and] the Postal Inspector’s office adds a layer of security and protection,” Rojo said.

Though rules differ slightly from bank to bank and card to card, in most cases, the victim is not liable for the amount stolen through fraud, said Renee Thompson, spokeswoman for Florida Bankers Association.

But the longer a victim waits to report the loss, the more difficult it will be to recover it, she said. “There are so many ways to monitor accounts, people usually discover something wrong quickly.” […]

If credit card solicitations or cash advance checks are stolen from the mail and used by identity thieves, Florida Bankers Association Fraudnet Director Bret Rock said the banks will take care if it.

“Fraud is fraud, and for the most part, banks will protect consumers against fraud,” he said. “The sooner they report it, the better.”

COMMENTS: The USPS states that “curbside mailbox thefts are surprisingly rare.” They have a vested interest in homeowners trusting and continuing to use the US Postal Service, obviously. However, the sad reality is that curbside mailbox thefts are grossly underestimated, and are one of the most common ways thieves acquire your information for identity theft.

Research by Javelin Strategy indicates that MOST victims do not know how their personal information was compromised. Of those who do know, the MAJORITY of victims had their information stolen via “low-tech” old-fashioned methods—stolen wallets, stolen mail, stolen trash – not high-tech methods as is often believed.

Most victims of mail theft never realize when their mail has been taken. It may or may not be useful to the thief. They may never become a victim of ID theft, but their mail has been taken. Think about it: Do you know what you are expecting to receive in your mailbox each day? Would you know if it never arrived?

Savvy criminals know they can find a treasure trove of information in your mailbox, from bank statements and pre-approved credit card offers to social security numbers and courtesy checks. Without a high security locking mailbox you are vulnerable to the nightmare of mail identity theft, the fastest growing crime in the country.

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