Law enforcement officials are reporting a rapidly increasing national trend in financial fraud by organized street gangs.
According to Nicole Hong, reporter for the Wall Street Journal, “Gangs are getting into crimes like check fraud and identity theft because they are more lucrative, harder to detect, and carry lighter prison sentences.”
While stealing checks and identities from mailboxes is not a new trend, mail theft is a criminal activity that is gaining extraordinary popularity among gangs. And this makes sense; gangs already have an organized structure for this sort of mail theft crime, from recruiting young runners to go from mailbox to mailbox to steal mail through to systems for reselling identities to those who would defraud the victims.
Ron Huff, an expert in gang studies and professor of criminology at the University of California at Irvine, states, “The sums of money involved are staggering. And the damage to people’s financial accounts is greatly out of proportion to other gang crimes.”
For example, last month, in Queens, New York, eleven members of a prominent street gang were charged for stealing checks from unsecured mailboxes, washing the inked payee and inked amounts off the checks, forging new payee names and amounts upon them, and then cashing these forged checks throughout banks in New York.
While this New York gang’s check forgery amounted to $33,500, their operation paled in comparison to a Los Angeles gang who stole more than $14.3 million using similar mail theft and forgery methods.
Because stealing mail, checks, and identities from residential mailboxes is a lot easier than selling drugs, this criminal enterprise is rapidly moving across the country. Hong reports, “Gangs are getting into crimes like check fraud and identity theft because they are more lucrative, harder to detect, and carry lighter prison sentences.”
How can homeowners protect themselves from this escalating mail theft crime wave that targets their residential mailboxes?
The number one deterrent is simply selecting a secure locking residential mailbox, one with a locking mechanism, or adding a locking feature to an existing residential mailbox like a mailbox insert.
For homeowners who can purchase their own residential mailboxes, the best place to find locking residential mailboxes is The MailboxWorks. With seventy-four locking mailboxes to choose from, The MailboxWorks has the largest selection of secure, locking residential mailboxes in the nation.
Of course, for homeowners in neighborhoods where the residential mailboxes are selected, installed, and maintained by a property owner or homeowner’s association (HOA), the challenge of securing one’s mailbox requires navigating the HOA’s or landlord’s processes.
However, this does not have to be an arduous process. Most HOA’s and property owners understand that ensuring the security of their residents and their residents’ mail is a key element to protecting property values and retaining good residents.
To lobby your HOA or landlord of the need to install locking mailboxes or locking mailbox inserts into existing mailboxes, consider taking these three steps:
- Educate – First, educate your HOA or landlord about the rise in identity theft and mail theft by providing the information at local board meetings and/or sharing news articles that demonstrate how residential mailboxes are being targeted across the nation. Remember HOA’s are made up of other residents just like you who may also quickly grasp the need for mailbox security and can decide in one meeting that all mailboxes should be secured immediately.
- Buy in Bulk – Second, change the question you ask your HOA from a closed “Yes or no?” question to an open question, “Which one?” How? Count the number of mailboxes in your neighborhood. Select two to three models of locking residential mailboxes that you believe your neighbors would appreciate. Then, ask the experts at The MailboxWorks to provide you with the appropriate quantity discount. Then, when you provide these quotes to HOA board members, property management firms, and/or landlords, you are not asking them whether or not to buy locking residential mailboxes but rather which model should be purchased. Remember, if your HOA cannot afford to purchase locking residential mailboxes for everyone in one fell swoop, suggest that the HOA purchase and install the new mailboxes in two or three phases to reduce the financial impact.
- Persistence – Third, be persistent. Your HOA or landlord may have to save up funds to purchase locking residential mailboxes for your neighborhood. By continuing to show up at HOA board meetings and keeping the issue in front of your HOA board members, you will be far more successful than simply asking once.