On June 9 at 2:31 a.m., someone pulled up in front of Stacy Fortner’s house, walked up to the curbside mailboxes belonging to Fortner and her neighbor, checked them and took whatever mail was in there.
Fortner caught all of this on her outdoor Nest camera. The man walked down Lobelia Lane checking other mailboxes. After 10 minutes, he drove away.
Because of the camera, and because Fortner called the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, the man was apprehended and arrested.
Fortner posted the video on Facebook. Unfortunately, according to sheriff’s PIO Shirley Miller, this wasn’t the first time mail theft was reported – and it won’t be the last.
“It comes and goes,” Miller said. “We’ve made arrests with the public’s help when they’ve called and reported something suspicious like in the wee hours of the night.”
Mail theft is a federal felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. According to thebalance.com, a mailbox is the riskiest non-technological point for identity theft, a study released in October 2007 found.
People typically steal mail for a variety of reasons, which Miller calls a “crime of opportunity.” These include looking for money, credit cards or anything else that can be used to steal an identity, such as a new or renewed driver’s license, bank statements, credit card bills, preapproved credit card offers, re-ordered bank checks and junk mail, the latter to learn about you to determine what kind of scam could work on you or to impersonate you to someone else.
It happened to Fortner’s friends Renee Bowen and Debbie Anderson. Although neither returned calls for comment, Bowen posted on Facebook that it happened to her despite having a locked mailbox, which was one suggestion Miller had to combat mail theft.
“When the sheriff came out for a police report, he said it was constant and really hard to catch,” Bowen wrote, adding she and her husband had their identities stolen as a result.
Anderson wrote that three in a group of mailboxes that included hers were broken into earlier this month, although hers wasn’t. Still, it has required her to go to her local post office to get her mail. The last time this happened, some years ago, she wrote, the post office refused to deliver her mail for two months.
There are plenty of things people can do to combat mail theft. Miller said the best way is to mail everything from inside the post office, although she acknowledges that’s not always feasible. Even official USPS boxes can have mail stolen if the thief opens the slot and fishes with something long with a sticky tip.
In addition to a locked mailbox, in which the carrier puts mail through a slot and the owner opens the box with a key, other suggestions include: finding out when the mail arrives and getting it then, get a box inside the post office, shred all mail before trashing it, switch to paperless billing and statements and don’t use the mailbox flag.
Miller said the United States Postal Service offers something called Informed Delivery, in which the post office sends an email each day showing what mail you’re going to get. If you don’t, you can alert the post office and any appropriate agencies.
Finally, invest in a camera as Fortner did.