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Postal authorities on high alert after mailbox thefts

July 14, 2011 |  2:44 pm

A recent spate of mailbox thefts has put postal authorities on high alert and raised concern that customers may be vulnerable to identity theft.

But authorities said it was unclear whether the brazen heists were part of a growing trend.

“The economy the way it is, there is an increase in crime all around,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Renee Focht of the Postal Service’s Los Angeles division, which has jurisdiction over Southern California. “We can’t speculate why the mailboxes are being targeted.”

Focht said less than a dozen mailboxes had been stolen in Southern California since the beginning of June.

As well as being swiped from in front of post offices, the blue collection boxes, which weigh around 200 pounds, had been uprooted from residential neighborhoods and business parks, Focht said.

“It does take some effort,” said Focht. “They’re bolted into the concrete.”

Four mailboxes were taken in less than a week at several San Fernando Valley post offices, including ones in Pacoima, Glendale and Burbank.

Local law enforcement agencies would not comment on mailbox thefts because postal-related crimes are investigated by federal authorities.

Focht said authorities had not yet determined whether any of the thefts were linked.

The postal official acknowledged that the stolen mail could be used for identity theft, but acknowledged that in reality only 4% of all identity theft cases are attributed to a mail theft.

Focht advised postal customers to deposit their mail before the last collection time in order to ensure items are not left in mailboxes overnight, when thefts might be more prone to occur.

In published tips to help citizens avoid being victims of identity theft, the Los Angeles Police Department advises residents to have new checkbooks sent to a post office box or arrange to pick them up at their bank.

Authorities also advise residents to pay bills with an electronic bill payment service. And envelopes containing payments should also be mailed inside a post office, rather than at a neighborhood mailbox.

The Postal Service has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the San Fernando Valley thefts. Anyone with information is encouraged to call (877) 876-2455.

“This is a priority investigation for us,” Focht said.


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-- Ann M. Simmons

Photo: The Magnolia Park post office in Burbank. Credit: Burbank Leader.