Mail thefts on rise: Reports in Nevada County nearly quadruple from 2014 (StoryMap)
U.S. Postal Service 24-hour tip line
It can seem like a petty crime — certainly not on par with a violent act like assault, or even on the same property crime level as a residential break-in.
But mail theft in Nevada County has reached epidemic proportions, with the number of reports made to the Sheriff’s Office nearly quadrupling last year from the year before.
The sheer volume of reports — going from 57 in the unincorporated county in 2014 to 214 last year means that on average, a county resident was making a complaint of mail theft to the Sheriff’s Office more than once every two days. And that doesn’t even count reports made to the city law enforcement agencies, to the U.S. Postal Service, or to credit card agencies or banks.
Local Facebook groups have tackled this subject repeatedly over the last year, with many posts receiving dozens of comments from victims — some of whom say they have been victimized more than once.
“We have been hit two times, always during the holidays,” said Michelle Hughes.
The first time, Hughes said, the thief was a neighbor who was convicted after one of the other neighbors put a video camera in the mailbox and caught him on film stealing the children’s Christmas packages and gift cards.
The second time, Hughes was out of town and unaware that her mail had been stolen until a Sheriff’s deputy returned it to her the first week of January.
“Many of the credit card statements, etc., were opened,” she said. “The officer had a stack all from the surrounding neighbors so he sorted through it and handed me items that belonged to us. He never would tell me much other than the mail was found in a recycling bin on Rattlesnake Road.”
Wolfgang Perner is another repeat victim who saw the first thief sentenced — in his case to federal time — but who has been victimized again.
Perner was one of the victims of Jasen Dushane, who was arrested in 2011 and sentenced in 2014 to 14 years in prison.
“He had the title to my Jeep in his possession when he was caught,” Perner said.
Perner now monitors his mail, but even those cautions aren’t fail-safe, he noted.
“We notice that some things don’t arrive, but worse, things don’t come that we do not know we missed,” he said. “It makes us look like flakes. We have had some mail returned in official postmaster envelopes, and some just put in our box muddy by who knows whom.
“My neighbors and I live far from the mailboxes, which are all grouped on Bitney Springs Road, and we all have the same problem,” Perner added. “Maybe multiple parties are stealing the mail pretty regularly, and likely more often than we know. I just got a P.O. box and stopped delivery last week.”
Many victims remain unaware that their mail has been stolen until it is returned to them or they become the victims of identity theft.
Diana Elliott had her discarded mail returned to her by a counselor at nearby Lyman Gilmore School.
“He searched me down and brought me my bills,” she said.
Elliott contacted her broker, but has not spotted any unusual activity in her financial accounts.
Diana Malley, who lives on the San Juan Ridge, said her mail was found on the ground in Nevada City.
“I didn’t even know,” she said, adding she suspects it was stolen because it contained deposit slips that look like checks.
Tina Morphew’s mail was stolen from her mailbox in Alta Sierra one afternoon sometime after 2 p.m.; the thief had washed one of her outgoing checks and tried to cash it before 6 p.m.
She happened to be doing her bills that night and immediately saw the discrepancy, since she had written a check for $75 that turned into a $400 withdrawal.
“I got lucky because he was stupid enough to write his name on my check,” she said; the thief currently is serving a 60-day jail sentence for forgery.
Crime of opportunity
Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal acknowledged the “unusual” number of mail thefts all across the community, and urged residents to take steps to protect themselves.
“Criminals are opportunists,” he said, adding many criminals use mail to acquire credit cards in their own names.
“You’ve got to protect yourself,” Royal said. “If you see someone loitering near mailboxes, or in the act of removing mail, give us a call.
“Don’t let your mail sit out in your mailbox, especially outgoing mail,” he added. “When you flip up that red flag, that provides notice to criminals.”
Royal advised residents concerned about the possibility of theft to use mail receptacles instead of mailboxes, and to let the post office know if they are going to be gone, or ask a neighbor to pick up mail and newspapers.
People also need to periodically go over their credit card bills and make sure there are no fraudulent charges, the Sheriff said.
That’s a precaution that Sandy Scott has instituted since her mail was stolen at both of her properties.
“I have had my financial information hacked,” she said. “I’m pretty sure credit cards are missing … It’s a full-time job just to keep up with these guys.”
If there’s one major thing the U.S. Postal Service wants to stress, it’s the importance of reporting the crime.
“We need the public to contact us,” said postal inspector Jeff Fitch. “The key is reporting. This is a federal crime, it is punishable by up to five years in prison, and up to a $250,000 fine.”
Fitch said that victims can call a 24-hour line — at 877-876-2455 — and emphasized there is a standing $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone on mail theft charges.
“Often, two or three weeks down the road, the victim will notice unusual (financial) transactions,” Fitch said. “Report that as well. It does make all the difference.”
To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.
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