The Postal Service is fighting mail theft throughout the Los Angeles region, but officials said Santa Monica is no more or less likely to experience theft than other parts of the area.
Several residents have reported anecdotal stories of mail theft in recent months, but according to the Postal Service, mail theft is a regional problem and not specific to Santa Monica.
“It’s a problem for all delivery companies,” said Richard Maher in the U.S. Postal Service
Corporate Communications department. “Porch pirates are driving around lifting packages … they also steal mail looking for checks that they can launder and alter.”
The actual theft of the mail is a crime punishable by fines and up to five years in jail. Crimes like fraud and identity theft can also be linked to mail theft with multiple law enforcement agencies working different elements of the case.
The Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement division of the Post Office, is a leading federal law enforcement agency in the investigation of identity theft. The Santa Monica Police Department said they sometimes encounter the repercussions of mail theft, such as fraud investigations that center on checks taken from mailboxes, washed and illegally reused.
Maher said mail theft has followed state trends for non-violent crime and that Southern California is a hotspot for mail theft. He said there have been a rash of Los Angeles area thefts using counterfeit keys.
“We do have a problem with centralized boxes and counterfeit keys, I can’t go into detail because I don’t want to let people know how to do it,” he said.
He said there are multiple ways to compromise some kinds of mailboxes.
“To respond to the epidemic, the postal service is in the process of removing them and replacing the master locks with newer locks that are much more secure and not as easy to counterfeit,” he said.
Maher said the replacements are occurring statewide and the postal service does not disclose the replacement location or schedule.
“We are replacing these as quickly as we can, but again, it’s not going to happen over night that all of a sudden all the locks are replaced,” he said.
The Postal Inspection Service made 206 mail theft arrests in 2015. The department does not provide additional information on historic arrest rates but said cases of theft in Santa Monica are not an outlier among the region.
“It’s a big problem in Los Angeles and Southern California area,” said Maher. “We all need to be aware of this and be vigilant.”
Stacia Crane, U.S. Postal Inspection Service public information officer said they rely on information from customers in their investigations.
“Every day, the U.S. Postal Service safely and efficiently delivers millions of checks, money orders, credit cards and other valuable items,” she said. “Unfortunately, such items are also attractive to thieves. That’s why Postal Inspectors across the country are at work to protect your mail. But with deliveries to more than 150 million addresses, we can’t do the job alone.”
She said the analysis of complaints can help Postal Inspectors determine if the problem is isolated or part of a larger trend. Thefts can be reported directly to the Inspectors office via an online complaint at postalinspectors.uspis.gov or by phone at (877) 876-2455.
Crane said residents can take steps to protect themselves from theft. She said mail should be removed from a mailbox regularly and those boxes should be properly secured.
Additional tips include:
Never send cash or coins in the mail. Use checks or money orders.
Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after delivery. Or ask a trusted friend or neighbor to pick up your mail if you’re expecting high-value items.
Have your Post Office hold your mail while you’re absent from your home for a period of time. You can do this online at usps.com.
If you don’t receive valuable mail you’re expecting, contact the issuing agency immediately.
If you change your address, immediately notify your Post Office and anyone with whom you do business via the mail.
Consider starting a neighborhood watch program.
If you have concerns about security in your neighborhood, place mail in a collection box in another area, in a secure receptacle at your place of business, or at a Post Office.
Maher said thefts from public collection boxes usually occur over night and customers can further protect themselves by checking the collection time on the box and depositing mail before the last collection.
“This does happen everywhere,” he said, “with this criminal element that pursues this type of activity.”
According to Maher, observant citizens are an important line of defense. He said residents should report any suspicious activity, such as individuals following postal carriers or anyone possibly tampering with mailboxes.