Mail theft is on the rise again in Manteca.
Manteca Police on Friday handled reports of eight cluster mailboxes being pried open in various neighborhoods south of Yosemite Avenue.
Detective Aaron Montoya arrested two suspects for past mail thefts several months ago. That prompted the number of thefts to drop off until Friday’s uptick. The couple that was arrested is expected to go to trial later this summer remain in custody.
When Montoya arrested them in their Union Road apartment, he found mail, checks and credit cards placed on the floor and carpet throughout the apartment – items that reportedly tied into cluster mail box thefts throughout Manteca.
The detective has handled three major identity theft investigations that collectively had more than 1,000 victims. A large chunk of those involve mail theft.
Two of his three biggest cases so far — one with 250 victims and another with 441 victims — were resolved from the standpoint of the criminal investigation with the arrest of suspects. The other involving between 300 and 400 victims is ongoing.
Thieves don’t always have to create fake IDs from stolen mail. In one case a criminal stole a bank ATM card that the accountholder was unaware was being sent to them. In such a case the thief will try it out at a gas station pump given there are typically no surveillance cameras. All they need to do is to guess the right ZIP code. Once they find out it works, they use it at ATMs to withdraw money. In one instance the thieves withdrew $2,000 over the course of a week and a half.
Police said mailboxes are popular targets as they can be broken into often in less than a minute. While many may believe the thefts occur at night, mailbox break-ins happen in broad daylight. Making matters worse are some criminals have acquired the expertise allowing them to fashion keys they then use to steal mail.
Victims often ask officers why the federal government isn’t investigating their mail theft. The reason is simple. While mail theft is a federal crime there aren’t enough resources at the federal level to handle the volume of cases. And while postal inspectors will cooperate with local authorities, the Post Office’s law enforcement division concentrates on breaking up organized crime rings in a bid to nail the bigger operators that do the most damage.
Police said thieves are after three basic things: Driver licenses, Social Security numbers and checks or credit cards.
What will happen often is addicts will steal mail from mailboxes or even from Toters and use it by the bag full to score drugs or secure small amounts of money.
Stolen mail doesn’t have to yield Social Security numbers or actual credit cards and checks to be valuable for an ID thief. They can glean tidbits of information that helps them put together a puzzle, so to speak, to create a fake ID from something even as innocuous as a mailing label.
Sgt. Patrick Danipour asks residents to keep on the lookout for strangers loitering around their cluster mailboxes. When large amounts of mail are stolen, citizens are forced to contact their credit card companies and businesses they have sent their monthly payments on outstanding accounts.
Mail box thefts and other calls for police service have been growing steadily throughout Manteca over recent weeks. There were 68 calls fielded by officers from 1 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday alone. The usual number of calls in that time frame have been in the mid-30s in recent months, police noted.
Sgt. Danipour said the calls for service Friday were small complaints that kept officers moving from one home to another – nothing of major significance. The one arrest was that of Emmanuel Reyes, 23, who was charged with allegedly stealing two large bottles of liquor from a West Yosemite Avenue grocery store.
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