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You're Inviting Mail Theft by Doing This, USPS Says in New Warning

You might want to avoid doing one thing when sending out your holiday cards this year.

For better or worse, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has the essential job of making sure everything you're sending and meant to receive ends up in the right hands. And while it can sometimes feel like every walk to the mailbox only ends with a trip back to your front door with a handful of advertisements, there's still a good chance you use the carrier to get sensitive documents, personal letters, and gifts to their rightful recipients. Unfortunately, despite the agency's best efforts, it's still possible for criminals to swipe your packages before they reach their destination. Now, the USPS has issued a warning that doing one thing could be inviting mail theft. Read on to see how you can protect your post.

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Mail theft is a growing concern for the USPS.

man standing outside of his house and taking an envelope out of his mailbox

Just staying on top of their daily functions means the USPS has a lot on its plate, to say the least. But the agency has also recently warned that people need to remain mindful of mail theft as a growing threat. According to an audit report from the USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG), the USPS Inspection Service (USPIS) received nearly 300,000 reports of mail theft from March 2020 through Feb. 2021. The number represented a staggering 161 percent increase in the previous year's complaints from the same period.

"Mail theft is a growing problem. It's at epidemic proportions right now," Postal Police Officer Association President Frank Albergo told CBS affiliate WBTV in Charlotte, North Carolina, in a July interview. He added that the agency was struggling with a downsized USPS police, which is now a third of the size it was in 2019.

While it may seem like items in your mailbox would be less interesting to thieves, they can provide plenty of information needed for identity theft and have made crimes like check-washing more common. On July 25, Damien Kriebel, a postal inspector for the USPS in Tampa, Florida, told local CBS-affiliate WTSP that residents should be proactive in protecting their letters and packages from criminals by keeping up with one habit.

"The key is to not leave your mail in your mailbox unattended," he told the news outlet. "You wouldn't leave your car unlocked with important documents on the front seat, and you shouldn't leave documents sitting in an unlocked mailbox either." But now, the agency is warning of an entirely new type of threat.

The USPS is warning that one habit could be inviting mail theft.

Albuquerque, New Mexico / USA - May 25 2020: Man drops off mail package with eBay envelope from his car at a USPS mail drop box outside the post office

Sometimes, it can feel like a race against the clock trying to get your important mail out in time—especially if you have a hectic schedule. And while leaving your outgoing letters in your home's mailbox for pickup can be convenient, it's also potentially risky due to increased theft. But if using your closest USPS collection mailbox seems like a safer option, the USPS warns that using one at the wrong times could still put you at risk for mail theft, reports.

"The biggest variable enticing these criminals to steal are customers depositing mail into blue collection boxes after the last collection of the day or during Sundays and federal holidays," USPS said in a release. "If customers simply used retail service or inside wall drop slots to send their U.S. Mail, instead of depositing it to sit outside overnight or through the weekend, blue collection boxes would not be as enticing after business hours to mail thieves for identity theft and check-washing schemes."

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Some areas have already advised against using blue collection boxes.

usps mailbox on the sidewalk

Unfortunately, the rise in mail theft has already led some local authorities to issue warnings to residents about using blue collection boxes. In an August Facebook post, police in Chesterfield, Missouri, warned that customers should avoid using even the mailboxes directly outside the local post office, noting they had been targeted in a number of thefts.

"Please refrain from using the exterior blue mailboxes, and conduct all business inside the facility, or at an alternate location," law enforcement warned. "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."

Earlier that month, there was a similar situation in Virginia Beach's Kempsville Neighborhood where signs were posted on blue collection boxes in front of the Acredale Post Office warning customers of a USPIS Crime Alert. Residents were urged to "come inside" to send their mail during an ongoing investigation into possible tampering with the mailboxes by thieves.

Here's how you can help avoid becoming a victim of mail theft.

A woman enters a United States Postal Service (USPS) post office in Long Island City on August 17, 2020 in Queens Borough of New York City.

Even with mail theft on the rise, the USPS says there are still ways you can help ensure your important documents and letters travel safely. In its release, the agency says that sending your mail through your local post office's retail counter is the safest way to conduct business, followed by using the collection slots located inside, reports.

Anyone who chooses to use a blue collection box should check the collection time marked on it and never deposit their mail after the day's pickup or late at night. If you're in a rush, each box should also point you in the direction of where the latest pickup for the day in your area is available. And no matter how convenient it might feel, it's best to avoid dropping anything into blue boxes on Sundays or holidays. If you ever notice someone tampering with a collection box, you should immediately notify the police and postal inspectors.

USPS suggests stepping up security on your own mailbox, too. The agency recommends signing up for Informed Delivery service so you can better track any critical correspondence. And if you plan on being away from home for a long stretch of time—especially during the busy holiday season—consider filling out a mail hold order to help ensure sensitive documents aren't sitting outside for too long.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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