The Los Angeles Police Department and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service is warning the public to beware of mail thieves who are targeting residences during the holiday season.
Det. Carmine Sasso, with the LAPD’s Wilshire Division, said the thefts generally increase in the weeks leading up to Christmas because thieves know packages are being delivered. He cautioned people not to leave packages on porches or in areas visible from the street. Sasso also cautioned people never to leave outgoing mail in their mail boxes to be picked-up by mail carriers because thieves also often steal those letters.
“I get reports every week,” Sasso said. “Especially during the holiday season, try to have parcels delivered to your work or the post office or a distribution point where they can be picked up. You can rent a post office box to prevent anything from being delivered at home.”
Sasso said mail thefts have been a problem throughout the city, and thieves can be very determined to steal letters and packages. They employ different tactics, including trespassing on private property, following delivery trucks and using sticks or poles with tape or adhesive on the end to reach into mailboxes and retrieve letters in a practice known as “fishing.” He said thieves also steal master keys that are used by postal carriers to access mailboxes at apartment buildings. Possession of mail by anyone other than an authorized postal employee is an arrestable offense, Sasso said.
“They are getting more creative, especially when it comes to identity theft,” Sasso said. “You’ve got people going up onto people’s porches and looking for stuff. That’s how intrusive these people are.”
Thieves commonly steal mail for identity theft and “check washing,” where the name and amount on a check is altered. Det. Joe Alves, of the Wilshire Division’s burglary unit, said he has been receiving multiple reports weekly. Although the thefts increase during the holiday season, Alves said he has investigated reports going back to July.
The detective added that police have recently arrested four mail thieves in the Wilshire area. On Dec. 6, two suspects were arrested near an apartment building at the corner of Hauser and Wilshire Boulevards after they allegedly burglarized a communal mailbox.
“They tried to leave the location with a cart full of packages,” Alves said. “I believe they were good for nine mail theft burglaries. I’m sure they had targeted other places.”
Alves added that security officers at Park La Brea also detained two mail theft suspects in late November and turned them over to police. He said one of the suspects had formerly lived in the complex and was familiar with how and where mail is delivered.
“The security recognized one of the suspects,” Alves added. “We found evidence of credit card theft.”
The detective said all four suspects are facing burglary charges but was unable to provide names and more specific details.
Sasso said local police departments investigate burglaries and crimes such as identity theft that occur as the result of mail thefts, as well as thefts of packages from private delivery companies. If thieves steal letters or packages from the U.S. mail and there is no evidence of a physical break-in, the investigation is deferred to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).
Approximately 2,200 people were convicted nationwide on federal charges for mail theft in 2014, USPIS spokeswoman Stacia Crane said. She did not have statistics for arrests in Los Angeles.
“It’s important that people report it. We need to know when it happens,” Crane added. “The criminal element is out there. They are looking for a quick easy turnover. Whatever they can get. It happens all the time.”
Crane said if someone suspects their mail has been stolen they should report it by calling (877)876-2455 or by visiting www.postalinspectors.uspis.gov.
“I think there are more now because people are ordering more things,” Crane said. “The thieves are becoming quite brazen.”
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