Police offer tips for preventing mail theft during holiday season

Above all, don’t leave mail, packages alone on your porch, stoop

By Jerzy Shedlock, Columbian staff writer

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Federal, Portland and Vancouver law enforcement are ramping up efforts to combat the theft of mail packages.

The goal for postal inspectors and police departments includes prevention and education. Authorities reported having already made multiple arrests during the first three days of the initiative, and said they expect to catch additional would-be thieves moving forward.

Postal Inspector Adam Sale said the best method for preventing shipped goods from being snatched is ensuring packages aren’t left outside overnight.

Mail thieves tend to operate at night, Sale said, continuing to look for easy targets until about 6 a.m. There is also no difference in socio-economic factors among the affected neighborhoods, he said.

“Mail thieves are opportunistic,” Sale said. “They simply look for clustered mailboxes and mail left on porches.”

“You don’t just leave valuable items lying around the outside of your home, so don’t do it for parcels,” he said.

Police are increasing their presence in hot spots, locations previously hit by mail theft and identified using crime mapping technologies.

According to the postal inspector, the volume of mail making its way across the county significantly increases during the holiday season, but that’s not the case for the number of thefts. There’s a slight increase, but it’s a crime that affects people year-round.

Last month, Vancouver police reported hearing increasing concerns from Vancouver residents about mail theft and damage to mailboxes, but police said there didn’t seem to be a marked changed in the problems, at least beyond the normal late-year increase.

The Postal Inspection Service’s 2016 report says an analysis of mail theft complaints identified a surge in mail theft in the western states last year. Nationwide, postal inspectors initiated 1,348 mail theft cases and made 2,437 arrests, resulting in 2,039 convictions in fiscal year 2016, according to the annual report.

Here are the officials’ tips for avoiding being victimized:

• Avoid sending cash by mail. Checks and money orders are safer.

• Don’t leave mail and packages unattended. Get those boxes off your porch ASAP.

• Consider an alternate shipping address. Try asking a neighbor who stays home during the day if you can use their address.

• Change the package’s address while it’s in transit. For example, arrange for pickup at a post office. People can do this if they won’t be home when a package is supposed to arrive.

• The Postal Service’s “Signature Services” option requires an in-person signature at the time of delivery. There are other shipping options, too, like registered mail, which gets special handling that documents the chain of delivery.

• Lastly, consider getting a P.O. box. The rented boxes are located in post offices and only accessible by key or lock combination.