Richard and Marilyn Lovell faced a difficult time addressing the aftermath of a crime that Clark County’s two largest law enforcement agencies say residents should be on the lookout for: mail theft.
In late January, a thief or thieves busted open two cluster mailboxes using tools in a subdivision in the Heritage area, northeast of Vancouver city limits.
The Lovells said they check their mailbox daily; this is not the first break-in they’ve experienced. Luckily, nothing important was stolen during this most recent theft.
“I can see the mailboxes from my window, and on the morning of (the theft), I looked out and saw a bunch of them were open and immediately thought, ‘Something isn’t right here’,” Marilyn Lovell said.
Richard Lovell said he filed a report with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, and after some back and forth with different branches of the U.S. Postal Service, the boxes have been repaired.
“We had to drive to Orchards to pick up our mail for some time. It was suggested that we put a vacation hold on our mail. It took a fair amount of calls and time to see the boxes repaired. It certainly seems like a widespread problem,” he said.
Mail thefts are likely to continue countywide. Some residents are still receiving their $600 stimulus checks or unemployment checks through the mail, and tax season means important documents are being sent out, officials said.
Clark County sheriff’s Sgt. Brent Waddell said there has been a surge in mail thefts. The sheriff’s office has been taking six to eight reports about mail theft daily for the past month or so, he said.
“There is no specific area, and it seems to be spread throughout the county at different times,” Waddell said.
Vancouver Police Department spokeswoman Kim Kapp said there has been an increase in mailbox vandalism. The incidents have been increasing since late December.
The police department has been “taking multiple reports each week for the past couple of months, and sometimes multiple reports in a day, depending if it’s a private mailbox or a community mailbox for which multiple people report one incident,” Kapp said.
The damage is happening throughout the city, Kapp said, and not concentrated in any particular area. Many of the community mailboxes are being pried open, she said.
In one mail theft case, a 25-year-old woman was jailed and her bail set at $10,000 for allegedly swiping mail from a single mailbox in front of a home near the boundary for Vancouver’s Lincoln and Shumway neighborhoods.
Residents caught the woman in the act and followed her to a nearby convenience store, where police officers made contact with the woman, who was a passenger in the getaway car, according to an affidavit of probable cause.
The driver of the getaway car was wanted on a Washington Department of Corrections felony warrant, court records say. There was a large amount of mail stuffed in the passenger’s side door, next to where the woman was sitting. She admitted to stealing mail from multiple locations in Vancouver that same day, according to the affidavit.
Kapp said it’s important for residents to check their mailboxes daily, as soon as the mail is delivered, if possible. Neighbors should also be on the lookout for suspicious activity, such as people or cars not associated with the neighborhood, she said.
Waddell echoed the precautions noted by Vancouver police. He added that having locked mailboxes helps deter some opportunistic mail thieves, and if your mail happens to be delivered to a cluster box, make sure it has newer locks that are harder to open.
The theft of documents is resulting in identity thefts, officials said. It’s important for people who fall victim to mail theft, or suspect they’ve been victimized, to pay attention to credit reports and bank and credit card statements for issues.