Mail Theft: A Crime With Serious Consequences

Published: Jan. 7, 2016 at 4:58 PM PST
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Residents of a neighborhood in Stead got a nasty surprise when they went to pick up their mail at a centralized collection box recently. Thieves had pried the individual boxes open. What they got isn't known, but the possibilities are enough to cause worry.

"I could have bills missing and go into collection without even knowing it," says Al Pefley, whose box was one of those pilfered.

And that's just the beginning of his concerns. There could be all sorts of personal information in his mail: checks or credit card applications.

"Credit card applications would be very disconcerting because anyone's credit could be ruined."

Petty thieves seem to particularly active this time of the year. The area saw a number of front porch thefts of packages before the holiday. Thieves showing up right on the heels of FedEx and UPS.

This is something different. There's nothing petty about stealing the mail.

"The theft of mail is a federal felony. It's punishable by two years in prison for each count," says US Postal Inspector Warren Heister.

To be clear, that's two years for each count, each piece of stolen mail a separate count.

And Heister and the other Postal Inspector based in Reno are sworn officers, armed and with full arrest powers. They and their cohorts across the country pursue these cases around the year.

Whomever broke into the mail boxes in Stead is at large and people in Pefley's neighborhood are being advised to pick up their mall at the Stead Post Office until new, more secure collection boxes are installed.

"In the meantime, some common sense caution is advised. Collect your mail as soon as you can after delivery," says Heister. "If you know that you are receiving a package have it rerouted to another address or someone else to pick it up for you or sign for you."

Al Pefley says he will continue to rely more on the internet for his correspondence.

As for the thieves...."I'd like to catch them," he says without a smile.

So would Heister. If that happens it could be no laughing matter.

"It's a high-risk, low-reward crime."

Heister says anyone who suspects a mail theft should report it to his office at the main Reno Post Office on Vassar Street.

Anyone with information on this case or any other should call the Postal Service's national hotline 877 876-2455 or Secret Witness at 322-4900.

Secret Witness will pay cash rewards while you remain anonymous.