A makeshift mail catch to trap envelopes being dropped into large blue Postal Service boxes was found in a box outside the Turlock Post Office on Tuesday night, police report.
The simplest mail catch is a piece of stiff cardboard folded into a U-shape at one end and taped to the inside of the mailbox snorkel at the other.
A customer made the discovery at the post office, 555 E. Main St., at about 7:50 p.m., said police Sgt. Neil Cervenka. “We don’t believe any mail theft occurred, due to it being discovered before the unknown suspect could retrieve it,” he said in an email.
Generally, the catches are very crude and easy to spot, Cervenka said. At a drive-up box, “the view would depend on the vehicle,” he said, “but checking with your hand if you can’t see in is an alternative.”
In an advisory on its Facebook page, the Turlock Police Department said that when dropping off mail, look for any signs of tampering or alterations to mailboxes. If you encounter this method of theft, or any other suspicious activity, report it to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455 and Turlock police dispatch at 209-668-1200.
The Postal Inspection Service has seen these mail catches used elsewhere, but the one in Turlock appears to be a first in Stanislaus County, said Jeff Fitch, a postal inspector. “We’ve seen a number of different things where devices are put in or around the snorkel,” he said.
The inspection service always is looking at security measures to defeat mailbox tampering and mail theft, Fitch said. Key to success is reporting incidents, as the Turlock postal customer did.
The simple cardboard mail catch appears to be something that, to be effective, might require thieves to remain nearby and check occasionally on their haul. A heavy load would unbend the cardboard and drop the mail.
Understanding that, police or postal inspectors might choose to stake out one that’s been discovered, Fitch warned. “If they’re watching, postal inspectors may be, too.”
On its website the Postal Inspection Service offers tips on protecting mail from theft, including:
▪ Use the letter slots inside your post office for your mail, or hand it to a letter carrier.
▪ Don’t send cash in the mail.
▪ Pick up your mail promptly after delivery. Don’t leave it in your mailbox overnight. If you’re expecting checks, credit cards, or other negotiable items, ask a trusted friend or neighbor to pick up your mail.
▪ If you don’t receive a check or other valuable mail you’re expecting, contact the issuing agency immediately.
▪ If you change your address, immediately notify your post office and anyone with whom you do business via the mail.
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327