About a month ago, I noticed that the three drive-up blue mail collection boxes at Modesto's Kearney post office were missing. This necessitated parking so I could go inside the building to mail my letters, rather than the convenience of the drive-through, which has been there for decades.
Given the parking lot can get clogged during busy hours, I hoped the boxes had been taken for refurbishment. A week later, one returned to its old location.
The plot thickened as I recently went looking for the Roseburg Square mailbox, also there for decades. Gone. Puzzled, I started watching other long-standing locations and noticed a marked attrition. Clearly, something was up. But nothing that I would have imagined.
After talking to a postal representative, the mystery is a sad commentary on our times. You guessed it: Thieves stealing mail and mailboxes in pursuit of checks, cash and other valuables.
The Roseburg box had literally been rammed by a truck and knocked off its bolts not once, but several times and then the thieves loaded the box on the truck and made off with the goods. It will apparently not be replaced. It's one of many under attack. Other reports include people using crowbars to jack off the doors and panels, as well as other violent methods to crack open the safe, so to speak.
Not all invasions are so aggressive. I heard of a video of a person using a fishing rod with sticky stuff on the end to fish out envelopes. I've spotted people reaching into boxes after dark, scrabbling for any mail they can catch. And I'm sure there are numerous other creative methods.
I did a quick eyeball on the Internet to see if this was a Modesto specialty and found out that mail collection box theft is common around the country. It's a new manifestation of home mailbox thievery that's been around for years.
I once had a check stolen out of our mailbox. I spoke with our postal person who cautioned me about putting checks in outgoing mail, and also about having an external mailbox as is common in many older homes that was easily accessible to anyone who toddled by. It made me realize that it's not just checks one should be worried about. Given the rise in identity fraud, anything with personal information should not be left in your mailbox.
I confess it's depressing. It was bad enough when mail was swiped from a home's mailbox. But to lose the convenience of area mail collection boxes or be worried about using the ones that remain is one more infringement on our sense of safety and trust.
The next time you plan to mail something, think twice about where and how. Consider going to the post office and making sure it's in the mail slot, rather than risk somebody's sticky fingers purloining your money and personal information. Our U.S. postal system is a wonderful resource, but it looks like we're going to have to be smarter about using it.
As our grandparents used to say, "What's the world coming to?"
Newcorn is an author and freelance writer living in Modesto. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.