Break-ins at cluster mailboxes took some of the merriment out of Christmas for many northeast Modesto residents.
“There certainly was a Grinch on the loose,” Paulina Ishaya told The Bee after she visited the Hudson Post Office at Oakdale Road and Sylvan Avenue on Monday to collect any mail that carriers may have recovered after her community mailbox was pried open Dec. 23.
Ishaya, who lives on Walnut Park Drive, northeast of Oakdale Road and Merle Avenue, said, “There was a long long line of people from around the northeast area that had their mailboxes broken as well.” Others she spoke with in line live on Millbrook Avenue and Beatrice Lane.
A postal inspector confirmed Tuesday afternoon that 19 mailbox clusters, all served by the Hudson station, had been broken into within the past several days. Most clusters have 12 or 16 individual mailboxes, though some have as few as nine, said Jeff Fitch with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of the Postal Service. That means between 200 and 300 households likely were victimized.
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Looking over reports, Fitch named a few other streets – all within the 95355 ZIP code – on which cluster mailboxes were hit: Manor Oak Drive, Glencrest Drive and Saddlehorn Lane.
It was pretty shocking that someone could do all of this in such a short time and disheartening that they would during the holidays.
Paulina Ishaya, Modesto mail theft victim
Modesto Police Department spokeswoman Heather Graves said in mid-November that there had been an increase in Modesto-area mail theft since August. Some residents of the Village I neighborhood of Modesto had mailboxes broken into in October, and on Dec. 11, the Turlock Police Department reported on social media that “officers have taken several reports of cluster mailbox break-ins over the past few days.”
Modesto resident Joyce Starkey said her cluster mailbox on Country Ranch Road, southeast of Oakdale Road and Floyd Avenue was broken into on Thanksgiving weekend. She said she was told by the post office that 14 clusters were hit that weekend and her neighborhood still is awaiting a replacement box.
Fitch called the rash of 19 break-ins over a period of days “significant” and said multiple postal inspectors have been assigned to the investigation. “Our Stockton office has been talking with postal managers in Modesto,” he added, “and the maintenance department is actively repairing the boxes.” He said he expected repairs to begin Tuesday or Wednesday, and he could not give a date when all would be back in service. In the meantime, affected residents are picking up their mail at the post office.
Thieves seek everything from mailed cash, checks and gift cards to information that helps them with identity theft and credit fraud. Ishaya believes that a Toys R Us gift card to her child mailed from an aunt in the Midwest was among the mail stolen. “We are working on trying to stop the gift card with the store,” she said.
The Postal Inspection Service sent a letter to customers regarding the break-ins. It included guidelines to guard against mail theft:
▪ Deposit outgoing mail in a blue collection box, at a post office, or by handing it directly to your letter carrier.
▪ Never leave mail in your mailbox overnight – that’s when thieves usually attack.
The Hudson station also sent a letter to customers. It urged residents to follow up on any financial mailings that were sent out, or were expected to arrive, to ensure they are accounted for. The letter from Hudson station manager Leo Soto included a mail theft complaint form and also asked that if customers experienced check theft/forgery or credit fraud, they provide postal inspectors with copies of checks and credit billings.
“Down the line, if people see something on a bank or credit card statement that’s not theirs, we need to know about it,” Fitch said, noting that such evidence is critical to investigation and prosecution of mail theft and identity theft.
Mailbox break-ins are a year-round problem for residents, the Postal Service and law enforcement. Fitch said he’d hate for people to think the thefts were simply tied to holiday gift-giving and now that the season has passed, they can be less vigilant. For example, in the first five weeks or so of 2015, there were more than 60 cluster mailbox break-ins in the Elk Grove area south of Sacramento.
Mail theft is a federal crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, Fitch said. The Postal Inspection Service has a standing $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of mail thieves.
In addition to notifying police of the crime, mail theft and stolen mail recovery can be immediately reported on a 24-hour hotline that reaches Postal Inspection Service dispatchers at 877-876-2455.