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Mail thefts are on the rise in Bakersfield, and the thieves are getting bolder

According to home security company SafeAtLast, mail thefts increased by 600 percent between 2017 and 2020.
Posted: 5:44 PM, Feb 15, 2023
Updated: 2023-02-18 12:23:09-05
Casa Real mail thief

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Video from the Casa Real Apartments in southwest Bakersfield shows a mail thief breaking into the complex's mailroom and filling a trash bag with over 200 pieces of mail.

Still in disbelief, Shari Masengale, on-site manager for Casa Real Apartments, showed 23ABC the moment the thief clearly uses a key to break into the tenants' mailroom.

"Watch when he comes over here. You see him? 'Cause you put the key in there, and now he puts the key in when he comes over here. See? He just put the key in," Masengale describes the scene.

The incident in the video happened in late January, but Masengale says it's not the first time it has happened, with thieves previously hitting the mail boxes in late November.

"You could see the one going through the mailboxes there, and he was looking at these here, and the once he spotted the camera, he went and put an umbrella, so that one we didn't see too much," said Masengale.

Masengale describes a callousness to how the thieves' carried out their operation.

"They wore masks, they were dressed in all black, and they just didn't care. They were just pulling stuff out, but I felt bad because it is W2 season and people still have checks mailed," said Masengale.

As Casa Real's on-site manager, Masengale is also a resident. She says she was alerted to the situation when an employer called her about a check.

"They called me and said someone was trying to cash my check at a Wells Fargo and tried to change my name," said Masengale.

Checks are just one of the types of sensitive documents that go through the U.S. Mail, with information that can be used to defraud others and even steal their identities.

U.S. Postal Inspector Matthew Norfleet says that because mail moves all across the country, mail theft is a federal crime.

"Unauthorized possession of a postal key is a crime in and of itself, and the sentence is up to 10 years just for having that key," said Norfleet.

According to Norfleet, every year for the past 5 years, postal inspectors have made a little over 2,000 arrests nationwide for mail theft, which averages about 10 arrests per day. With the postal service being responsible for thousands of keys and millions of mailboxes, he says it always feels like they're playing catch-up.

"I mean, I can tell you mail is being stolen every night somewhere," said Norfleet.

Norfleet also says that while crowbars were used to pry the mailboxes open before, the postal service is seeing thieves using other methods now.

"Now we are seeing more thefts in Bakersfield and other places where thieves have gotten their hands on key, and they get those through various ways, either through counterfeiting them, or, unfortunately in a lot of instances, including Bakersfield, robbing the carriers at gunpoint just to take those keys," said Norfleet, adding that the reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a mail thief is up to $10,000, and the reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a person who robbed or assaulted a postal worker is up to $50,000.

Because mail thieves are so often armed, the U.S. Postal Service recommends that the general public not try to stop someone they catch in the act of stealing mail, but to call the U.S. Postal Inspection Service instead.

Masengale says that's what she did, but she said she is frustrated with the slow response and her first case being closed without a resolution.

"My thing is, no one ever called me back from the postal service, not even to say 'Hi, we are checking on it.' Nothing," said Masengale.

Norfleet admits that not everyone gets a call back due to the high volume of cases and their approach in focusing their efforts.

"Because nobody steals one piece of mail, we really try to look for the pattern of it rather than an individual report," said Norfleet.

According to Norfleet, mailbox master keys are being replaced every day, but the process takes time. He says the mail locks will be replaced at Casa Real Apartments as well.

"Yeah, eventually the locks will be replaced, whether it is they are being compromised or whether better locks have been invented to replace them, but this is like paining the Golden Gate Bridge. By the time they have replaced all the locks, it is time to replace all the locks again," said Norfleet.

In the meantime, Masengale has put security cameras up around the mailroom, replaced the mailroom door and lock, and now locks the mailroom entirely after hours.

"And open it back up in the morning," said Masengale. "So we are trying to do some things, possibly, to help deter it."

The U.S. Postal Service also recommends people use the online Informed Delivery service, which allows postal customers to see what mail they're supposed to be getting so they can double-check that they've received it all. People who find that mail is missing can make a report from the Informed Delivery website. Mail theft can also be reported by calling the postal inspector's office at 877-876-2455.

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According to home security company SafeAtLast, there are other measures mail customers can take to help prevent their mail from being stolen. Installing doorbell cameras is helpful, as mail thieves are less likely to commit the crime if they know they're being watched and recorded. The company also suggests that anyone waiting for something important, expensive, or that they know won't fit in their mailbox make sure they're at home during the expected delivery time to ensure the security of their delivery.

There are extra steps you can take to ensure your mail makes it safely to its destination.

First, the United States Postal Inspection Service recommends promptly picking up your mail. They say don't leave your letters and packages in your mailbox or at your door for a long period of time.

Next, deposit your mail close to pick-up time. Keep track of your mail and notify the sender if something is overdue.

Finally, avoid sending cash through the mail.