Mail theft on the rise in Clark County

Van Mall neighbors want their community mailbox relocated

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Postal Service offers tips to guard against mail theft

Officials said there area few things people can do to minimize the threats of mail theft.

Carol Smith, whose mailbox was broken into, told The Columbian that she usually picks up mail about twice a week. Police and post office officials say that is a bad idea.

Ron Anderson, customer service representative with the U.S. Postal Service, recommends people collect mail daily and try to avoid leaving it in the box overnight. Vandalism and theft usually occur at night. Collecting mail daily can help people know what mail is missing, he said.

Outgoing mail should be taken to the large blue postal collection boxes, a local post office or put in the outgoing mail at work, he said.

More visible locations are less likely to be hit by thieves, he said.

Anderson added that people are usually concerned about identity theft when their mail is stolen, but tracking identity theft back to mail is rare.

— Paul Suarez

Lloyd and Marrene Arvidson are tired of thieves breaking into the community mailboxes near their VanMall neighborhood home.

The couple report that someone got into individual boxes several times in the past month. Officials repaired the boxes at least twice, Lloyd said, but the problem persists.

The Arvidsons and their neighbors aren’t the only ones dealing with this problem.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has received an increased amount of mail theft complaints in Clark County in the past month or so, spokeswoman Shannon Hall said.

“We’ve been devoting a lot of time and a lot more resources to deal with increased complaints,” primarily from people with community mailboxes, Hall said.

Mail theft is an everyday occurrence in the county, especially with community mailboxes, said Sgt. Scott Schanaker, spokesman for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. He hasn’t heard of a recent increase in reported

thefts.

Neither has the Vancouver Police Department. Police spokeswoman Kim Kapp said the crime increases during the holidays, especially when people might be sending cash or gift cards in the mail.

Break-ins are such a common occurrence for the Arvidsons’ community box that they opted to spend $35 to rent a post office box for six months at the local post office — even though their individual mailbox has never been broken into.

They say the post office box isn’t too costly but is an inconvenience and not an option for all the neighborhood residents, many of whom are elderly.

“It’s not that the post office won’t do anything,” Lloyd said. “It’s a long, drawn-out process.”

Lloyd thinks the best option is to move the community box off Northeast 54th Street and into the residential area and, preferably, under a streetlight.

Lloyd is in the process of talking with post office personnel to find out what would need to be done to move the box. If the box is owned by the homeowners, they will have to pay to have it moved. He hopes to hear back sometime this week.

Neighbor Mike Williams agrees that the moving the mailbox is a good idea.

“As long as they have it in that dark place where no one can see it,” it’s going to get broken into, he said.

Williams’ box was broken into once, but he wasn’t sure if anything was taken.

Carol Smith’s community mailbox, in the North Garrison Heights neighborhood, was also hit a few weeks ago, she said.

“You feel like you’ve been invaded,” Smith said.

She said she didn’t receive any notice from the post office about the break-in, but her mail was held until locks on the individual boxes were repaired. When she visited the local post office to get a new key, she said an employee told her that quite a few mailboxes around the county have been hit lately.

Other customers confirmed that.

“Everybody seemed to know somebody that had gotten hit,” she said.

Another string of thefts occurred in the Prune Hill area of Camas.

There were four reported thefts in September, two in October and six so far in November, said Carlos Gonzalez, an officer with the Camas Police Department. Each month, the individual thefts came in on the same day and were probably linked to one community mailbox that thieves broke into, he said.

Gonzalez didn’t see any reports of mail theft this year before August.

An investigation is ongoing but oftentimes there aren’t a lot of resources available, postal inspection service spokeswoman Hall said.

“There aren’t videos out there to get the people breaking in,” she said. “Sometimes we get lucky and our customers will have video. Sometimes people will get license plate numbers. The majority of the time, it’s following the paper trail,” that leads to the suspects.

The service is working with Vancouver police and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office to investigate.

Victims of mail theft should call the postal inspection service at 1-877-876-2455, Hall said.

Paul Surarez: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops;">www.twitter.com/col_cops;">http://www.twitter.com/col_cops;paul.suarez@columbian.com.