USPS, Local Police Combat Spate of Mailbox Fishing
By Donald Gilpin
Princeton is often touted as a safe, secure, low-crime community, but local residents have recently fallen victim to a number of “mailbox fishing” thefts.
The Town Topics Police Blotter for the first week in August tells the tale. On August 1, a man reported that three checks he mailed had been stolen, altered, and cashed. Two days later a woman lost $6,000 after a check she had mailed was stolen and altered. The following day another woman reported a check stolen, altered, and cashed for a $4,000 loss. All three thefts were from mailboxes on Nassau Street.
On the morning of August 6, a woman reported a loss of $4,000 from a check she had mailed that had been stolen and altered, and less than three hours later a man reported that three checks he had mailed at Palmer Square East had been stolen and altered, resulting in a loss of $8,831.
Similar reports of checks mailed, stolen, altered, and cashed were received by the Princeton Police Department (PPD) in July and many more throughout the previous year.
The perpetrators go to the mailboxes with some type of long string with sticky material on the end, according to PPD Sergeant Thomas Lagomarsino. They drop the line down and pull up random pieces of mail as quickly as possible in order to escape quickly. The check thieves can “wash” or erase the ink with chemicals found in common household cleaning products and re-write the checks.
Investigations continue, as the PPD collaborates with the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS). Princeton Postmaster George Sabu pointed out that the United States Postal Service (USPS) is in the process of changing mailboxes to equip them with an anti-theft device.
“By next week, we’ll be seeing the new boxes in Palmer Square and on Nassau Street,” he said. “Nobody will be able to get mail out by ‘fishing.’”
In the meantime, Lagomarsino advised, “If you are sending checks through the mail, go directly to the post office with your letter, or give it directly to the mail carrier. If you use the mailbox, put your mail in close to the pick-up time that’s written on the mailbox. Try not to leave it
in the mailbox overnight.”
Postal Inspector George Clark, based at the Philadelphia division of the USPIS, echoed Lagomarsino’s suggestions. Clark said that his office is aware of the Princeton community’s concerns and is working with local and county authorities to investigate. “We take all complaints seriously, and we follow up,” he said. He noted that theft occurs with only an extremely small percentage of all the mail that is sent.
Clark warned people to pay attention to the notices on mailboxes identifying pick-up times. “Don’t mail after the last pick-up time each day,” he said. “Most of these thefts occur in the middle of the night.” He also urged that if people see suspicious activity around collection boxes they should call 911 and go to the postal service website at uspis.gov to file a complaint.
The PPD has posted a “Fraud/Theft Alert” on Facebook and Instagram, warning Princeton residents to beware of mailbox fishing and to consider methods other than normal mail — such as electronic check, Venmo, or Paypal — for transferring money.
Lagomarsino added that, in addition to using social media to alert the community, the PPD would be reaching out directly to seniors through the Princeton Senior Resource Center. This week’s Municipality of Princeton Newsletter also features updates and tips to help residents avoid becoming a victim of mail theft.
The USPIS reports that postal inspectors arrested almost 2,500 suspects for theft of the mail and packages in 2018. The USPIS websites notes that the vast majority of the billions of letters and packages mailed reach their intended destinations safely, but recommends extra steps to ensure you receive your mail: pick up mail promptly, deposit mail close to pickup time, inquire about overdue mail, don’t send cash, and when shipping packages use the Holder PickUp option so recipients can collect the package at the local post office.