Don’t Let the Grinch Steal Your Mail

Posted by November 26, 2014
Police found credit cards and a driver's license among mail recovered in the arrest of a suspect in July 2014. Courtesy Decatur Police Dept.

Police found credit cards and a driver’s license among mail recovered in the arrest of a suspect in July 2014. Courtesy Decatur Police Dept.

By Dena Mellick, contributor 

‘Tis the season for giving … and taking. While you are preparing to give presents to your friends and loved ones, thieves are looking for opportunities to play the role of the Grinch and steal your gifts.

With more people shopping online and having gifts delivered, unattended packages and mail are easy targets for thieves.

Here’s what you can do to keep your deliveries safe.

Package Thefts

Decatur Police Sgt. Jennifer Ross said, “Within a day of Cyber Monday in 2013, we began to experience package thefts in various neighborhoods around Decatur. The thefts were occurring at single family homes as well as multi-unit condo properties. Unfortunately, as many of us start our holiday shopping, others are starting their holiday stealing. The best defense to counter those who forage our community for packages is a good offense.”

Sgt. Ross shared some package theft prevention tips:

  • If possible, ship your packages to your work location or a location where you know someone will be there to receive the package such as the home of a friend or loved one who you know is home during the day.
  • Request that a signature be required to deliver the package.
  • If you are traveling, make sure to ask a family member, friend, or neighbor to check for packages at your home. You may have received a gift delivery you were not expecting.
  • If you live at a location that requires passcode or keycard entry, do not let people you don’t know tag along behind you and enter the property. If they are aggressive, do not confront them — call police immediately, and provide a detailed description of the person, what they are wearing, and where they were last seen.
  • If you observe people you do not recognize on a neighbor’s property, pay attention. If it appears they are removing packages, call police immediately and provide the same descriptive information. Watch to see if the person goes back to a vehicle and provide police with a description of the vehicle and their direction of travel.
  • Keep an eye out in your neighborhood for vehicles that appear to be following delivery trucks and stopping at locations where the delivery trucks just made a delivery.

Sgt. Ross added, “Shipping companies are now offering various options for deliveries such as scheduling your deliveries and receiving alerts the day before packages will be delivered. You can also reroute or reschedule deliveries or arrange for in-store pickup if you are not able to be home to accept them.”

For example, Atlanta-based United Parcel Service (UPS) has been touting its UPS My Choice program which sends registered users a text or email the day before a package arrives. A customer can then reschedule the delivery or reroute the package to another address.

“Find out what options are available for a more secure delivery from the company you are using. Monitor and inventory your deliveries and don’t assume your packages were sent in separate shipments,” Ross said. “In some instances packages are stolen while some were left behind.”

Decaturish asked UPS how the company keeps packages secure. UPS’s Dan Cardillo said the company trains drivers to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior and to leave packages out of sight.

He also said, “Most of our drivers have delivered on their routes for many years and some for decades. Over that time, many UPS drivers develop relationships with their customers so they know where their customers want their packages delivered.”

Mail Thefts

Many readers likely remember (or even experienced) the rash of mail thefts in the area earlier this year. Thieves hit multiple neighborhoods in January and February. A quick-thinking resident in Winnona Park led police to arrest two young men and recover mail that had been stolen from 14 locations that day.

Ross said in July of this year another resident called police after witnessing a person removing mail from boxes on East Parkwood Road. Ross said the caller’s detailed description helped lead police to the suspect who had stolen mail from 36 people throughout Decatur, DeKalb County, and Atlanta.

Ross also shared some tips to keep your mail safe:

  • Take outgoing mail, especially outgoing checks, directly to the post office or USPS mailbox in your area.
  • Promptly remove mail from your mailbox once it is delivered.
  • Consider utilizing a post office box.
  • Install a locking mailbox insert which allows the postal carrier to drop your mail into a slot and requires a key to access and retrieve the mail.

We asked Michael Miles, the U.S. Postal Service Atlanta Communications Manager, about locking box inserts.

He said, “Sometimes those are sold to people under the mistaken impression that the postal service has access to those and might, in fact, have a key, and that’s not the case. Only the owner will have a key. But if there’s a way to secure the mailbox that does not interfere with the placement of mail inside the mailbox … then we won’t have any problems with it.”

Despite the mail theft reports in the area this year, Miles said mail theft is a fairly rare occurrence. He, like Sgt. Ross, suggested taking outgoing mail directly to the post office or a box, but if that’s not possible, “try to place it in your mailbox as close to around the time that you’d expect your carrier to arrive, so it’s not there all day.”

Miles said if you’re going to be out of town, you can request that the postal service hold your mail either online or by getting a hold mail request from the post office and leaving it in your mailbox.

He also said to pay attention to who is going into neighborhood mailboxes.

“It is against the law for anyone other than the postal service or the mailbox owner or a designee of the mailbox to go into mailboxes, including practices where people go to neighborhoods and place fliers and business cards,” Miles said. “That’s a forbidden practice as far as the postal service is concerned. … We would ask customers that any time they see any suspicious activity around their mailboxes to report that to their local post office.”

If you see someone you think may be stealing mail or entering mailboxes illegally, call police immediately.

If you believe you’ve been a victim of mail theft, call police and also contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to file a complaint online or over the phone (1-800-ASK-USPS).


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