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Voice of the Consumer: Beware of using postal blue boxes when mailing checks

By: Betty Sexton, KKTV 11 News
January 29, 2017 Updated: January 30, 2017 at 2:30 pm
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I know I warned you about this last month, but two recent crimes have put this back on my radar and now yours. Beware of putting your mail in the U.S. Postal Service blue boxes. Even though the collection boxes are on federal property and breaking into them is a federal crime, that hasn't stopped the thieves. I've heard from a few people including Inez, Dennis, and Shirley in Colorado Springs. They were forced to change their bank accounts, cancel credit cards, and contact merchants to have late payments forgiven.

They put their mail in the blue box outside the post office near Galley Road and Powers Boulevard in El Paso County on the evening of Monday, Jan. 2, a holiday. The next day postal workers discovered the blue box had been broken into and mail had been stolen. I was warned about this kind of crime back in December and wrote about it for The Gazette on Dec. 19. Detective Wayne Lambert with the Colorado Springs Police Department's Fraud Unit tipped me off saying the criminals use various methods to get inside the blue boxes. He said, "The rat trap guys are back. They actually buy rat traps and use those on the blue boxes." The end result is that identity thieves are taking personal checks made out to businesses and stealing the information to make fake checks or they're trying to cash the stolen checks after wiping out the payee name and writing in another.

Some victims learned about the theft after seeing their checks had not cleared their banks. Others who don't regularly check their accounts may not know their checks never made it to their destinations until they get bills the following month and are dinged for late fees. If you believe you're a victim of a blue box theft it's important to file a police report as well as one with Postal Inspectors. Dennis told me his credit union and his creditors were all understanding, but it did take hours to clear up. Dennis hopes the crooks get caught saying, "I think there's probably a place for them. It's terrible. You try to do the right thing and these people come along."

In 2015, the Postal Service inspector general reported that mail theft resulted in nearly 500 arrests and a loss of close to half a million dollars.

"It is a federal offense and it carries a penalty of five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine," Postal Inspector Eric Manuel told me. "If they committed identity theft, they could face even more charges."

Manuel said the blue boxes are pretty secure and difficult to compromise, but they aren't theft-proof. That's why I recommend taking the extra time to park at the post office and walk inside, putting your mail in the indoor slots. You also could personally hand them to your letter carriers. I also wouldn't recommend raising the red flag up on your personal mailbox and putting them there.

Those kind of thefts are pretty common these days.

I've reported on this incident on 11 News at 10 p.m., also detailing the blue box theft which occurred at the Pueblo West post office. In that case, which is not connected to the one in El Paso County, two people were arrested and charged with identity theft, theft, and forgery. Pueblo County Sheriff's spokesperson Gayle Perez said one of the suspects was caught at the bank in the act of trying to cash some stolen checks.

To file a stolen mail report with a postal inspector call 877-876-2455, then dial 2 when you hear the prompt. You also can file a report online at https://emailus.usps.com/emailUs/iq/usps/request.do?forward=emailUs

To learn more about the efforts of postal inspectors go to these online sites: USPIS DEN for Facebook and USPIS.DENVER for Twitter.

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Contact Betty Sexton at bsexton@kktv.com or 578-0000.

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