Gilbert police battle rise in mail thefts - East Valley Tribune: News

Gilbert police battle rise in mail thefts

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Posted: Wednesday, April 30, 2008 7:15 pm | Updated: 11:19 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A resident found her Gilbert neighborhood's community mailbox ripped open and several pieces of mail missing.

A mail thief struck the area near Gilbert and Baseline roads on Jan. 5, during the same month when six other mail-related thefts were reported in the town.

"We have had significant problems with mail theft in the past," Gilbert police Sgt. Mark Marino said. "It's not as prevalent as it was before, but it's a concern for us."

There have been 10 cases of mail theft reported in Gilbert so far this year. That's on a similar pace to last year's total of 38, more than double the 15 cases in 2006.

While the problem has subsided statewide since it spiked nearly a decade ago, a recent uptick in Gilbert has police urging residents to be cautious and alert.

Especially since stolen mail is one of the leading causes of identity theft.

Arizona is the No. 1 state for identity theft, according to a Federal Trade Commission report.

The Valley is rated as the 17th worst metropolitan area for the crime in the country, and five other Arizona areas are rated in the top 25.

Local police departments and the U.S. Postal Inspection Office handle stolen mail cases.

There are roughly 40 postal inspection agents in Arizona who work with police to investigate the thefts, said Patricia Armstrong, postal inspection spokeswoman.

Both Gilbert police and federal officials said mail thieves don't seem to target specific areas. It's a crime of opportunity rather than a planned attack, they said.

And drug users, especially methamphetamine addicts, are often the culprits.

"Meth is obviously a problem in Arizona," Armstrong said. "Wherever you have a meth problem, you have a crime problem.

"When people need the money, these crimes can quickly generate cash," she said.

Marino agreed that there's a strong correlation between drugs and identity theft crimes in Gilbert.

However, mail thieves aren't always looking to steal identities.

Many simply pluck mailboxes in search of cash, gifts and checks.

Armstrong said postal inspectors have arrested criminals who look for mailed checks and then wash them to erase pertinent information and add their own.

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