Postal officials are warning residents to keep an eye out after a rash of recent mailbox break-ins across the Central Valley.
And the cost could be much steeper than a missing paycheck or a few dollars out of a birthday card.
According to Manteca Postal Supervisor Tami Sinclair, the number of reported mailbox break-ins in the Manteca area has increased significantly since December. They have become even more brazen in recent weeks with vandals popping open the locked doors in broad daylight.
Stolen personal information, she said, can be valuable to thieves looking to cash in on the identity theft market and becomes a major nuisance to customers who are forced to come down to the office to pick up their mail while work orders and maintenance slips are filed and processed to repair the damage.
“It’s something that’s happening all over the Central Valley, and while it’s something that you would think that would be more prevalent during the holidays with people looking for money and gift cards, it has actually gone up since then,” Sinclair said. “We just encourage people to be aware of their surroundings and to report anything that might seem out of the ordinary.
“These thieves are hitting some of these mailboxes in the middle of the day, so if anybody sees anything we encourage them to contact the police.”
Last month Federal and local law enforcement officials announced a sweeping series of arrests in California after a months-long investigation into theft rings that they believe were responsible for hitting thousands of mailboxes up and down the state. The problem had become so widespread that U.S. Postal Service inspectors came specifically to the Central Valley – Sacramento, Bakersfield and Fresno were the targets of “Operation Broken Mailbox” – to attempt to derail the problem.
Law enforcement blames a burgeoning drug trade with being behind the boom.
“Where there’s meth, there’s mail,” Postal Inspector Gregory Campbell said during a press conference announcing 21 arrests as a result of the enforcement last month. “There is a correlation.”
But customers don’t have to be helpless or wait until they find themselves the victim of the growing trend.
According to Manteca Police Department Sergeant Jodie Estarziau, a handful of simple changes – like picking up mail daily, paying all bills through the post office drop box instead of leaving for the letter carrier to pick up, or even getting a post office box – can help cut down on the allure of a potential target.
Any mailbox, authorities say, can be a target.
In November, Ripon Police announced that mailboxes throughout the community were being targeted – with some going so far as to steal the physical boxes themselves to get to the contents inside.