Preventing Mail Theft

The theft of mail from residential mailboxes and collection boxes is an increasing problem. It is a means employed by fraudulent con artists to steal checks and other items of value. This problem can be reduced or minimized if members of the community will adopt the following measures or practices.

Preventing Theft of Mail

  • Do not leave outgoing mail in your unlocked mailbox
  • Do deposit mail in a blue collection box or inside at your local post office. Use a collection box that is not full
  • Make sure your mailbox is in good condition. Mailboxes in poor condition often expose mail to theft and bad weather. Your local postmaster can advise you on current postal regulations and steps you can take to improve the condition of your mailbox
  • Promptly pick up your "incoming" mail once it is delivered to your mailbox
  • Get together with neighbors and the Postal Service and arrange for the installation of locked group mailboxes for neighborhood delivery. These group mailboxes are known as Neighborhood Delivery and Collection Box Units (NDCBU). With an NDCBU mailbox, each address has an individual locked unit for delivery and collection. (A minimum of 7 neighbors is needed to sign a petition requesting an NDCBU).
  • Purchase a locked mailbox or convert your unlocked box to the lockable type. (Look in the telephone directory yellow pages under "Mailboxes - Retain"). On your locked box, make sure the mail slot is large enough and safe enough for the letter carrier to insert your mail. (Note the mail carrier cannot pick up mail from this type of unit).
  • Arrange for your mail to be delivered to a Post Office Box for a small fee.
  • Consider having regular income checks deposited electronically right into your bank account via Direct Deposit. It's easy, and in most cases, it's free! Contact your bank for details.
  • In case your mail is stolen (from your mailbox, from a blue collection box, from a postal vehicle, or from you letter carrier), to avoid fraudulent use of your checking account when writing checks to pay your bills:
    • Write out in full the "payee" and "memo" portions. Fill up the entire lines with letters or squiggly lines.
    • Use thick, dark ink; red ink is best (not felt pen) to write you checks. Roller-ball pens are the best.
    • Purchase checks through institutions that use tamper-resistant paper and ink. Never send cash or coins through the mail.
    • Always send a check or money order.
  • Promptly report non-receipt of credit cards, checks, and other valuable mail to the senders.
  • Immediately notify the post office and mailers if you change your address. If you are going on vacation, notify the post office, or have a trusted friend or neighbor pick up your mail promptly after delivery.
  • Join a Neighborhood Watch Program. Remember, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
  • Be observant of activities on your street, including those near your letter carrier, his or her postal vehicle, residential mailboxes, and collection boxes.
  • Immediately report any suspicious persons or activity by calling 911 while suspects are still present.
  • The Postal Service pays rewards up to $10,000 for information and services leading to the arrest and conviction of mail thieves. Report suspicious information to Postal Inspectors, 24-hours a day, at 818-405-1200.

Major Postal Offenses

  • Theft of mail or possession of stolen mail: The illegal taking of mail from postal custody or from the mail receptacle of a postal customer, by a non-postal person, or the receipt or possession of mail known to have been stolen (18 U.S.C. 1708).
  • Theft of mail from Postal Service mailboxes: The street corner (blue) collection boxes and (dark-green) relay boxes (used by the Postal Service to temporarily store mail) are often the targets of crime. Relay boxes sometimes contain large quantities of mail-in gray sacks, which the thieves cart off. They are primarily looking for checks and credit cards. Counterfeit or stolen keys are frequently used to gain entry.
  • Theft of mail from rural mailboxes: A popular target of thieves, these mailboxes are not always visible to the homeowners and are often clustered together by the side of the road. Often, thieves steal outgoing mail left by residents in their boxes for pickup by postal letter carriers. Such mail sometimes contains checks used to pay household bills, and these checks contain bank account and other personal information, which can be misused in various ways, including check forgery scams. Sometimes, the thieves discard mail they open but do not want by the side of the road.
  • Theft of mail from apartment house mailboxes: Here, many mailboxes are grouped together. Anyone found going through more than one box should be considered suspect.
  • Possession of stolen mail: Possession of mail addressed to others may have been stolen. Be alert for significant quantities of such mail, especially mail with checks payable to others and credit cards in the names of others.
  • Fraudulent credit card applications: Con artists sometimes apply through the mail for credit cards in the names of unsuspecting victims or using fictitious names. Be alert for applications in a number of different names.