Whether you're still mailing your tax returns or sending out a monthly rent check, there's a good chance you trust the United States Postal Service (USPS) with a lot of personal information. The agency promises a commitment to ensuring your privacy and security, but there's only so much they can do. Mail theft has becoming an increasing concern for customers across the U.S., as stories of stolen mail and washed checks have surfaced in many different areas. Now, authorities are alerting Americans about one way they may be putting themselves at higher risk. Read on to find out which mailboxes are being referred to as the "perfect target" for thieves.
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Mail theft has been rising in recent years.
It's not just anecdotal—the USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report in 2021 indicating that mail theft has increased. According to the report, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) received 299,020 complaints of mail theft between March 2020 and Feb. 2021, a 161 percent increase compared to the number of complaints it had received in the same period the year prior.
"Each year, Americans trust the USPS with billions of letters and packages, and the vast majority of those arrive safely at their intended destinations. But there are always thieves who will target the mail," the USPIS states on its website. At the same time, you could be putting yourself at higher risk depending on how you choose to send out your mail.
Police are warning about risky mail behavior.
Police have been investigating reports of stolen mail in Chesterfield, Missouri, since July, local news station Fox 2 Now reported. While the investigation is ongoing, authorities have a vital safety tip for all Americans. In an Aug. 29 Facebook post, the Chesterfield Police Department warned people against putting their mail in the USPS collection boxes outside of post offices. According to the officers, the mail thefts currently being investigated in Chesterfield occurred from the exterior blue mailboxes at the city's local post office.
"Please refrain from using the exterior blue mailboxes, and conduct all business inside the facility, or at an alternate location. For anyone who has recently deposited mail in one of the exterior mailboxes, please monitor your accounts for any financial information that could be compromised," the department wrote.
Other areas have warned residents not to use these mailboxes.
The risk is not limited to one area. At the beginning of August, ABC-affiliate 13News Now reported that a new warning sign has been posted on blue mailboxes outside of the Acredale Post Office in Virginia Beach's Kempsville neighborhood. According to the news outlet, the sign warns of a USPIS Crime Alert, indicating that authorities are investigating blue collection box tampering because thieves may be stealing checks and other financial documents to commit fraud.
"Do not use. Come inside," the sign states. And according to 13News Now, the same sign is posted on the blue boxes across town outside the post office in the Sea Pine neighborhood. As resident Diane O'Brien explained to Fox 2 Now, these collection mailboxes outside of post offices have become "a perfect target for people."
If you do use a collection mailbox, never leave your mail in there overnight.
If you are using a blue USPS collection box to send your mail, the USPIS advises that you deposit it close to pickup time. Collection times are posted on labels outside of the mailboxes and may vary depending on the day of the week, per the USPS. You should only deposit your outgoing mail "before the last collection or inside your local Post Office," the USPIS warns.
USPS inspector Adam Sale told ABC-affiliate KATU 2 in Portland, Oregon, that most mail thieves strike at night. "Investigations of mail thefts are challenging. There are no witnesses to the theft. Often times they happen overnight, so people aren't around," Sale said. "People who are mailing using blue collection boxes—pay attention to the times that are marked on those boxes, and don't drop mail after the collection time for it to sit overnight."