RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - It's one of the consistent rituals of American life. The mailman making his rounds.
Hundreds of thousands of pieces of mail are delivered in our area every day, the end of a complex, time-tested process from sender to recipient.
But once it arrives in your mailbox, it's vulnerable to theft. To thieves it's a quick score with the potential for long-term payoffs through stolen credit cards or identity theft. It leaves victims wondering at first if they've been hit, and if they have, what's missing.
"Often times when I go out to talk with mail theft victims, they know they've had their mail stolen, but they can't really tell us what they were expect. 'I just know my mail is gone," says US Postal Inspector Steven Kline.
"It takes between two to four weeks before we see the results of that mail theft. Someone cashing a check. Someone using a credit card."
Until then we never know for sure. In each day's mail, some items are expected, some aren't.
But how do you know if you've received all the mail that was sent to you? It turns out, the Postal Service has an answer. It is a brand new addition to the sorting process that takes place every day at the main post office here in Reno.
Mail arrives here, is sorted into zip codes and then is scanned by address for each mail route. These machines are capable of sorting 20- to 30-thousand pieces of mail each day and they've been doing it like this for years.
But something new has been added. As the mail is sorted it's scanned by a camera. An image of each piece of mail is captured. And, through a new service called Informed Delivery, it's viewable by you every morning. It's now possible for you to know what was in that day's mail and whether you received all of it.
"We can now give you an email every day," says Kline, "with a picture of that mail so you can now know what to expect in your mail box."
So, if you've signed up for this service you'll know right away if you're missing something. That helps you get ahead of any potential impact from a theft and it gives an early start to investigators like Kline.
"Instead of trying to play catch-up in those four weeks, we're on that case almost from the beginning."
Informed delivery is free. You can sign up on line. It's on the Postal Service's home page, usps.com. Just click on it to get started. You'll have to create an account if you don't already have one and certify your identity by answering some questions.
After that, you can start receiving a preview of your mail box every morning. It won't keep a thief from your mail box, but you'll know if he's been there and it will help you recover and help investigators catch him.