Mail theft dropped by 63 percent in the Valley over the past two years since the installation of thousands of new, stronger community mailboxes, a postal official said. However, thieves continue to raid less secure boxes and use the personal information they find to commit fraud, said Patricia Armstrong of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Phoenix.
No break-ins have been reported at any of the more than 5,000 new mailboxes, which cost the Postal Service more than $11 million, Armstrong said. In addition, more than 1,000 security devices were retrofitted into apartment complex mailboxes.
"We no longer lead the nation in mail theft," she said. "But Western states still have a problem."
Armstrong said 1,699 break-ins were reported in the agency’s fiscal 2003, and that dropped to 629 by the end of fiscal 2004.
Still, 74 break-ins were reported in November of both 2003 and 2004, she said, adding that mail thieves are more active in the cooler months. Erasing a check writer’s handwriting with a chemical wash has fallen out of fashion among scam artists, who now prefer to make counterfeit checks with the stolen data, Armstrong said.
Mary Rooney of Gilbert said she stopped using her old-style rural mailbox three years ago after thieves stole her mail and "washed" a $24 payment check to a clothing store. When the bank sent her cashed checks back, she noticed one had a stranger’s handwriting — and a new amount, $300, filled in.
Her bank took the loss, she said, and she stopped putting outgoing mail in the box. But last week she found out that taking mail to the post office is no safe bet, either. A Christmas card mailed to a relative one mile away arrived with a slit in the envelope and a $150 check missing. She stopped payment on the check.
"It’s just aggravating," Rooney said. "I’m very leery now of using anything."
Some stealing occurs within the agency, but not on the scale of mailbox thefts, Armstrong said. Suspected "internal" thefts should be reported to a resident’s local postmaster, while victims of mailbox theft should report the crime to local police and the postal inspection service, which can be reached at (602) 223-3660, she said.
For information about postal fraud and theft, visit