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Social Security Check Theft Leaves Elderly Frustrated, Angry

Times Staff Writer

Edna Shively, a widow in Costa Mesa, woke up with a start at 2:30 Friday morning, worried that she would be unable to pay her monthly mortgage because her Social Security check was missing.

“The first thing I did this morning--even before I got my coffee--was to check the mailbox to see if the check was there,” said Shively, a retired secretary.

It wasn’t. Her’s was one of about 30 Social Security checks stolen Thursday during a daring “smash-and-grab” break-in of a Postal Service mail delivery car in a quiet residential neighborhood near the juncture of the Corona del Mar and San Diego freeways.

This was the second such theft in Orange County this week, said Joe Breckenridge, spokesman for the Postal Service in Orange County.

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On Tuesday, mail being delivered to 350 homes in El Toro was stolen when someone apparently used a crowbar to break into a Postal Service vehicle parked in the 22000 block of Winterwood Drive.

Postal inspector Steve Schneringer said he believed that these two thefts were carried out by members of a “loosely knit gang” made up of illegal aliens from Mexico and Central America.

On Friday, form letters from the Postal Service were delivered to the 350 homes in El Toro and another 176 homes in Costa Mesa, informing people of the thefts.

Mortgages will go unpaid, utility bills will pile up and there will be a lot of belt-tightening until their Social Security checks are replaced in 10 days, a half dozen senior citizens said in interviews Friday. For many, the $500 to $750 they receive monthly in Social Security is their chief source of income.

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Darnell Lawrence, the carrier whose car was broken into Thursday, said that several elderly people had come up to him on his delivery route in the neighborhood of well-tended, 20-year-old h1869440371 “They seemed kind of upset,” said Lawrence, who has had the route for only two weeks.

According to Postal Service officials, Thursday’s theft in the 3100 block of Lincoln Way was pulled off by two men in their early 30s. Using a tire iron, one of the men smashed out the rear window of Lawrence’s Ford Pinto mail delivery car. He had left it parked on Cheyenne Street while he walked down Madison Avenue delivering mail.

The men grabbed hundreds of letters, jumped into their waiting car and sped off in the direction of the nearby Corona del Mar Freeway.

Postal authorities say gang members use forged identification to cash these government checks at small neighborhood grocery stores.

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Among the Social Security checks the thieves took Thursday was one for $720 belonging to Doreen Marjoram, a 65-year-old retired school cafeteria worker who lives on Jefferson Avenue.

She kept peeking out her living room window on Thursday afternoon, looking for the postman to come with her Social Security check. It never came.

“I was so upset (Friday) morning that I called my sister in Laguna Hills and a friend on the other side of Costa Mesa to find out if they’d gotten theirs,” she said. “I really got worried when they told me their checks had come on time.”

Marjoram, a widow, said her monthly Social Security check is about her only source of income, and she depends on it to pay her mortgage, utility and phone bills.

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According to Steve Reed, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration in Orange County, it will take 10 days to replace the stolen checks.

Reed said Social Security recipients whose checks were stolen would have to go to the Social Security office in Costa Mesa at 1525 Mesa Verde Drive East to fill out replacement-request forms. They should get new checks in 10 days, he added.

Elsie Seldomridge was irritated when she found out that she would have to wait 10 days before she could get a new check to replace the stolen one for $620.

“This is going to be a real inconvenience,” said Seldomridge, a retired secretary who lives on McKinley Way.

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She said that Thursday had been a tough day for her.

“I must have looked in my mailbox 20 times for my check,” she said. “I finally stopped looking at 7 p.m.”

On Monroe Way, Grover Nutt, a 66-year-old retired schoolteacher said he and his wife, a 63-year-old retired bank officer, were disappointed that their Social Security checks had been stolen.

Between them, they get $500 a month, which Nutt said is only part of their monthly income.

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“Still, it’s going to be kind of tight until we get our checks replaced,” he said.

Across the cul-de-sac from the Nutts, an 87-year-old woman, in anticipation of receiving her Social Security check Thursday, had spent the day before preparing her bills for mailing.

When the check had not arrived by 3:50 p.m. Thursday, her 50-year-old daughter, who asked that her name and that of her mother not be used, called the post office in Costa Mesa and was told of the theft.

“My mother is very sick, and this is very upsetting to her,” the daughter said.

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She added: “I think this is terrible. How could someone be so low as to steal checks from old people?”


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