Law enforcement officials weigh in on mail thefts following rash of break-ins

Mailboxes emptied all the way down a residential street. Envelopes strewn about the yard. Packages reportedly delivered but missing from front doorsteps. Cards and letters ripped open and removed of cash or checks.

Such occurrences seem commonplace in La Cañada Flintridge, where residents are airing grievances on social media outlets about what they’re seeing as a rash of mail thefts.

La Cañada resident Greg Jones realized he was hit in November, when he and his son received birthday cards from a relative in the mail only to find them ripped open and devoid of the $100 bills they’d originally contained.

“I never felt at risk before,” said the Pomander Place homeowner. “But I guess the problem’s gotten bad for [mail thefts] and for daytime burglaries.”

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Victims like Jones are not shy about expressing their desire for justice. But beyond venting frustrations about a problem with no clear and immediate solution, what can victims of mail theft do?

Contacting local law enforcement is a logical first step, but Sgt. Alan Chu, a detective with the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station, says investigating mail thefts is challenging.

“The main problem with mail theft is we don’t know what’s stolen or when it was stolen,” Chu said. “You can have an open mailbox but it doesn’t mean you’re a victim of mail theft, because you don’t know what’s been delivered.”

The detective said while such thefts have become rampant — evolving with help from the Internet into complicated schemes that can involve hundreds of victims and criminals in foreign countries — bringing perpetrators to justice is rare.

“It’s hard to combat,” Chu said. “Safeguarding your information is more important than anything else. Go get a lockable mailbox — that will solve a lot of problems.”

Issuing a report is an important way to begin seeking compensation for losses and create a paper trail investigators can follow if and when a mail thief is caught.

Residents can also sign up for “Informed Delivery” (informeddelivery.usps.com), a free service that will send scanned images of incoming mail envelopes directly to an email address so items can be anticipated and identified as stolen if they do not appear.

Another, and possibly lesser known, step involves reporting a theft to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the federal law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service responsible for investigating mail-related crimes.

In 2015, the most recent year for which figures were available, 1,400 mail theft cases that took place across the country were initiated by the Inspection Service. That same year, 2,357 arrests were made, resulting in a total of 2,048 convictions.

Stacia Crane, a public information officer for the agency’s Southern California office in Pasadena, says criminals are out on the streets looking for easy opportunities to steal things they can quickly turn into cash, often for drugs.

California’s recent easing of penalties for nonviolent offenders, Crane adds, has simply created more opportunists.

“If they do get something, a lot of times they’ll give that to their dealer,” she said. “It’s happening with all petty crimes — that’s why you’re seeing a lot more vehicle thefts, break-ins and home burglaries in broad daylight now.”

Residents are urged to retrieve their mail as soon as possible and request a hold when they plan to be away from home. Crane advises people not to drop off mail outside the post office after the last collection time and instead carry it inside the building to post.

Mail theft victims should report such incidents to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, online at postalinspectors.uspis.gov or by calling (877) 876-2455.

“We’re not going to run out and do DNA testing on your mailbox,” Crane said. “(But) if you don’t report it, you’re just accepting it. There are too many criminals on the street who are wanting us to take the easy road, and we can’t do that.”

sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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