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Postal Service launches investigation into region-wide mail theft
A recent spate of mail thefts on Vashon has led authorities to launch an investigation into the crimes, which has also seen an uptick in other parts of King and Snohomish counties as well.
Dave Schroader, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), said that mail theft on Vashon hasn’t increased over the past year, but an increase in the number of reports in the last few weeks has raised concerns. The postal service is now working with the King County Sheriff’s Office and the Vashon Post Office to investigate the crimes, he said, and officials are asking that Islanders contact the agency with any information.
“We are actively investigating those mail thefts as we speak,” Schroader said. “We would absolutely love any assistance that the public can give.”
According to USPIS records, from the beginning of March through the third week of May, there were 17 mail thefts reported on Vashon. During the same time period last year there were 52 reported mail thefts. Schroader, however, said there has been a spike in the last couple of weeks. The current investigation on Vashon is not routine, he added; there hasn’t been one in at least a year.
“We have not had an investigation on Vashon for some time now,” he said. “This is unique.”
Schroader was unable to give a detailed reason for the investigation or any specifics about it. He did say that over the past few weeks the postal service has seen mail theft increase in various parts of King and Snohomish counties, and it is actively investigating in those areas as well.
Authorities, he added, are not sure if Vashon’s increase in mail theft is related to those off-Island or if the uptick region-wide is simply a coincidence.
“These individuals who steal mail, they travel around,” Schroader said. “They may be in Seattle one day, moving out to Vashon one day, in Olympia another day.”
Pam Bredouw, who lives at Vashon Cohousing, said the group of about 20 homes just outside of town has seen an increase in mail theft over the past several months and many recently opted to install locking mailboxes. They have also seen an increase in vandalism to cars, she said.
“I don’t know if it’s personal or a sign of the times or some combination,” she said.
Bredouw had a package stolen in December, a Christimas gift she purchased online but never received, despite the fact that post office records said it was delivered.
“I was shocked,” she said.
Since then Bredouw has installed a locking mailbox, something she says is only an inconvenience when she has to pick up packages at the post office.
Other cohousing neighbors, Bredouw said, have had important financial documents stolen from their boxes, some of which were later found tossed in ditches.
“I have no idea why it’s happening,” she said. “I am sad that people feel this is their only choice.”
Carolyn Candy was a victim of the recent spate of mail thefts. At the beginning of May she went to her mailbox on Westside Highway to find her mail scattered in the bushes. She soon learned that several of her neighbors experienced the same thing.
“I realized somebody was just going down the mailboxes and doing it to all of them,” she said.
Some of Candy’s neighbors found envelopes addressed to them with the contents removed, she said, but she’s unsure whether she had any mail stolen. She believes the act happened during the afternoon she said, since she discovered the scattered mail just an hour after she first checked her mailbox.
“I was really surprised,” she said.
Schroader said the USPIS hasn’t gotten any significant leads concerning Vashon’s mail theft but will continue to investigate. The most important thing Islanders can do to prevent the theft, he said, is to pick up mail immediately after its delivery, if possible, and especially not leave a mailbox unchecked overnight, as mail theft often happens under the cover of darkness. When leaving town, he added, individuals should have friends pick up their mail or have it held at the post office.
Schroader said mail thieves are usually hunting for money, checks, credit cards or financial information. However, he added, it’s usually difficult to steal a person’s identity based on documents typically sent through the mail.
“Mail theft and ID theft typically don’t go hand in hand,” he said. “But we’re always worried and making sure customers are vigilant about checking credit reports and those kinds of things.”
Those convicted of mail theft, a federal crime, can face up to five years in prison, Schroader said.
“The inspection service works tirelessly to investigate these accusations,” he said. “We do bring these people to justice and they end up serving time if convicted.”
Candy, meanwhile, said if there is another incident she may consider getting a locking mailbox. For now, though, she doesn’t think mail theft will become a regular occurrence on her street.
“I’m hoping it’s a fluke,” she said. “That’s how I’m taking it. I’m not feeling paranoid.”
Report mail theft
Anyone who has information on mail theft or has seen anything suspicious on Vashon should call the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455.