USPS must do more to safeguard the mail

by John Derr
Posted 2/24/22

The latest woe for the beleaguered USPS is the recent rash of thefts from mailboxes.

And on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 15, we realized it had also happened to the Local.

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USPS must do more to safeguard the mail

Posted

It is safe to say that no other business or organization has come under more scrutiny and derision in the past few years than the United States Postal Service. 

The latest woe for the beleaguered mail delivery agency (joining slow mail, lost mail, intermittent delivery and Louis DeJoy) is the recent rash of thefts from mailboxes. The Local reported on this issue a couple of weeks ago: “Checks go missing from the mailbox outside the post office,” published Feb. 10. That article told of two individuals who had mailed checks around the holidays, using the mailbox directly in front of the Chestnut Hill post office on Germantown Avenue. Weeks later, both had discovered that fraudulent checks made out to strangers and bearing the account holder’s signature had been charged against their checking accounts. 

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On Friday, Jan. 28, sometime after 5 p.m., Jordan Demetris exited the Chestnut Hill Local office and dutifully walked that week’s outgoing checks about half a block, depositing them in the weathered, blue mailbox on the high-trafficked corner of Germantown and Highland Avenues, just as he had done countless Fridays since becoming the bookkeeper of the Chestnut Hill Local. This routine completed, Jordan returned to the office, confident the USPS would take it from there. And why not? Shouldn’t we all be confident that once we entrust a letter, or check, or package with the USPS, our job is done? 

A little more than a week later, I heard from our printer that they had not received our payment. A few days after that, one of our correspondents asked about the whereabouts of her check. Then we noticed that none of the checks we mailed on Jan. 28 had been presented for payment. We discussed stopping payment on all the checks and reissuing new ones. We didn’t know if our checks had been the victims of foul play or the victims of sluggish mail delivery. But on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 15, the fate of those checks became clear. 

After finishing the day’s Wordle, shortly after 7 a.m., I opened my computer. I don’t look at our account balance every day because I am not a glutton for punishment, and it is never the first thing I do. But that morning, I clicked on my shortcut to the online banking portal, signed in and looked at our funds on hand. Something seemed off. It looked about $10,000 light. Some businesses wouldn’t notice a $10,000 difference. It would be like removing a bucket of sand from the beach.  For a small community newspaper, it is like removing a bucket of sand from four buckets of sand. 

I saw that a check had been cleared the previous day for just over $9,500. I opened the window to view a copy of the check. It looked like our check. It was my signature in the lower right corner, but I knew I had not signed anything for that amount of money. And the check number was 4194, which was inconsistent with the check number range we are using by about 2500 checks. Also, it was made out to someone named Antwine Jackson in Williamsport, Pa. We don’t have any vendors or correspondents with that name. 

I immediately emailed our bank. Fortunately, because it was caught so early, they were able to return the check and refund the money to our checking account that same day.  The perpetrators never got their hands on our money. 

We were fortunate. I have no doubt we would have eventually gotten our money back, but who knows how much time and paperwork it would have taken? Since then, we have become aware of two other businesses on the 8400 block of Germantown Avenue who have had a similar experience. 

In the Local’s Feb. 10 article, Austin Fraser, captain of the 14th Police District, referred to the practice of thieves stealing checks from mailboxes as “nothing new.”  George P. Clark, a postal inspector at the United States Postal Inspection Service said it happens “all over the city” and that it is “under investigation.”

I am glad these crimes are under investigation, but if theft from mailboxes is “nothing new” and if it is happening “all over the city,” why isn’t more being done to prevent these acts, or to notify mail customers?  Why do these thefts never appear in the crime reports we publish which are provided by the police department?

Mailboxes do not appear to be pried open or otherwise broken into. To me, that suggests the responsible party has a key to the boxes or that the checks are not being stolen from boxes but at some point later in the sorting process. 

There are some obvious precautions the USPS could take to thwart mail criminals. First, change the locks on the mailboxes. Second, require all mail carriers to turn in their keys at the end of each day and make sure that all keys are accounted for. Keep the slot inside the post office building open for customers to drop off mail.  (A recent caller to our office reported trying to drop off mail inside the office only to encounter a sign directing her to place her outgoing mail in the mailbox outside, the very box they must have known had been robbed. That’s like directing a farmer to deposit his chickens directly in the fox’s den.) 

It is our hope that the Local is raising awareness of this ongoing criminal activity and that our readers will take every precaution. Let’s hope the USPS will do the same to safeguard the mail entrusted to them.

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