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VOL. 123 | NO. 232 | Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Postal Police Urge Caution With Mail, Other Items

By Tom Wilemon

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The season for postal bin diving and mailbox pilfering has arrived.

The Memphis branch of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service is urging people to take extra precautions about where they leave mail containing gift cards, signed checks and personal information.

Gloria Clark, manager of the postal police division in Memphis, said the heavier volume of mail makes it easier for thieves. She advises people to bring mail containing valuable or sensitive information inside post offices whenever possible, especially if the blue boxes outside are full.

“There are times when we have come up on mail boxes so full that you can actually put your hands in there and pull things out of it,” Clark said. “Say people are mailing Christmas cards out at the Colonial station. Their boxes are full all the time. We can put our hand in there and pull out 10 Christmas cards and, say, nine of them have Christmas cards, you’ve lost that money. If there are no names on them or anything, anybody can use them.”

Safeguards should be used even when mailing a check payment, said Shari Smith, an officer for the postal police division.

“People can get that mail, get your check and wash it,” Smith said. “Let’s say you’re paying BellSouth. They can wash off BellSouth and put their name on it. It’s called check washing.”

Credit card applications can contain enough information to steal an identity. Bert Cranor, the postal inspector, said the best protection is to get into the habit of shredding mail with personal information.

“People don’t realize what they’re putting out there that makes things so accessible for people wanting to commit identity theft,” Cranor said.

The police officers said they often find filled-out credit card applications in post office garbage cans, apparently tossed aside when people change their minds about mailing them.

Criminal activity at post offices is already up, she said. No percentages were immediately available.

“It really starts increasing when the time changes,” Clark said. “Criminals are more likely to do things in the dark.”

The second busiest time of the year for criminal activity is around Mother’s Day when people commonly mail money, she said.

Although officers patrol post offices, they do not keep a constant guard on parking lots. Items visible through vehicle windows, even winter coats, lure automobile burglars.

Gloria Clark

“When I go to a post office, I start out walking the lot,” Clark said. “When I see purses, bags, laptops on the seat of the car, I will go in and go to the window area and ask, ‘Whose car is this?’ I’ll give the description of the car. They’ll tell me, and I’ll say, ‘Ma’am, you left your purse out there. You need to go out there and get your purse. I’ll hold your place in line, so you can go get your purse.’”

A better option is to put valuables in the trunk of a car.

“It’s going to be a lot more noticeable for somebody to pop a trunk than it is for them to walk up to your car and break your window out,” she said. “Most people are not even going to pay any attention to that if they are not on that side of the car looking at it. Thieves know how to do that without making any noise.”

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