Mail Fishing

Not email, paper mail:

Thieves, often at night, use string to lower glue-covered rodent traps or bottles coated with an adhesive down the chute of a sidewalk mailbox. This bait attaches to the envelopes inside, and the fish in this case -- mail containing gift cards, money orders or checks, which can be altered with chemicals and cashed -- are reeled out slowly.

In response, the US Post Office is introducing a more secure mailbox:

The mail slots are only large enough for letters, meaning sending even small packages will require a trip to the post office. The opening is also equipped with a mechanism that grabs at a letter once inserted, making it difficult to retract.

The crime has become more common in the past few years.

Posted on March 25, 2019 at 9:39 AM • 23 Comments

Comments

Snarki, child of LokiMarch 25, 2019 11:08 AM

"Thieves, often at night, use string to lower glue-covered rodent traps or bottles coated with an adhesive down the chute of a sidewalk mailbox. This bait attaches to the envelopes inside, and the fish in this case -- mail containing gift cards, money orders or checks, which can be altered with chemicals and cashed -- are reeled out slowly."

This is a Ninja technique.

Which leads to the interesting questions: there were Ninja a few hundred years ago in Japan. Where are they now?

Rick LobrechtMarch 25, 2019 11:12 AM

Our neighborhood has community PO Boxes at the end of each street. Individual house boxes are locked, and there are a couple of drop slots to mail letters. Those slots are approximately 12" wide and 1/2" high, with an angled opening. Each bank of boxes has a couple of lockers, which the mail carrier can lock small packages in, leaving the key in your mailbox.

I haven't heard of this kind of mail theft. It seems like a complete shot in the dark that someone would get something worthwhile. Most people rarely send checks anymore.

Our neighborhood has a much bigger problem with package theft off people's front porches. This applies to USPS, UPS, FedEX, Amazon, etc.

JC DentonMarch 25, 2019 12:59 PM

@Snarki, child of Loki
They are still here, you just can't see them. You know, because Ninjas.

MeMarch 25, 2019 1:00 PM

@Snarki RE:"Which leads to the interesting questions: there were Ninja a few hundred years ago in Japan. Where are they now?"

They are still there, they are just MUCH better at stealth.

JasonRMarch 25, 2019 2:31 PM

@Rick Lobrecht

Mail thieves regularly hit community mailbox clusters to steal outgoing mail. Especially during the holidays, but anytime throughout the year grandma can be mailing out a gift card or cash. One favorite are paper checks, which can be "washed" and the re-written.

I never used my community mailbox cluster for any outgoing mail of importance. A few years ago I sent out a mail merge for 20 or so new "hams" (amateur radio operators) inviting them to the next upcoming local club meeting.

A few weeks later I got a letter from the local police department saying they had property of mine down at their evidence facility. I was puzzled what it was. Turns out it was this mail, which someone had stolen. No value, except I was out the 20 or so stamps plus the folks didn't get a timely congratulations and invite.

The other problem we've had is thieves somehow making or duplicating the main cluster key. Then they just take all of the mail, including outgoing. This is usually done late at night or in the wee hours so no one will see them. So, never leave mail in the cluster overnight, and if you're going to be gone have a mail hold put in place.

Baba kMarch 25, 2019 2:32 PM

They can add a laser movement checker that checks movement of object inside of entrance of mailbox. If the object moves backwards ( I mean down to up) instead of forwards (up to down), it should have a auto lock system or warning by SMS, sound and etc.

TatütataMarch 25, 2019 2:39 PM

In the 1963 film "Un drôle de paroissien" (EN: "Heaven Sent") by Jean-Pierre Mocky, the character played by actor Bourvil is a member of the aristocracy for whom working is beneath his dignity. But after the French revolution living off your serfs became a little bit complicated, and his family was in dire straights, with almost every piece of furniture pawned, and no electricity.

So he goes to church to get advice from God, who sends him a sign: thou shalt help yourself to the offering boxes. They are there for the poor, and you are poor, so this isn't theft. (There is a strong taste of Jesuit casuistic...)

With that revelation, George runs home, to dedicate himself to his new vocation.

In the sequence from @ 11'43", he rips his own mailbox for the wall to use as training material, and in the next minutes he perfects his skills. He begins with caramels on strings, and by end of the film he prepares the boxes for faster service by sawing off their top and installing additional hinges, while ridiculing the police (which doesn't really need any help in that area).

I checked whether the USPS had any interesting innovations in mailboxes. Nothing worth mentioning, but I incidentally came across this 2017 filing published a few weeks ago, called "CRYPTOGRAPHICALLY TRACKED AND SECURED VOTE BY MAIL SYSTEM". Blockchain is of course mentioned. Besides the technical aspects, which I don't really have time to delve into, I'm curious as to what their business model would be. A federal service provider to states and local governments?

Jesse ThompsonMarch 25, 2019 3:12 PM

The mail thieves where I live got so sophisticated that I just had my mail forwarded to the last place they'd ever look. *Their* mailboxes, which I regularly pilfer at night to safely retrieve my own mail.

Checkmate. :)

TRXMarch 25, 2019 9:29 PM

Interesting... but in my town, USPS has removed all but one mailbox. At least, it was still in the bank parking lot a year or so ago. I haven't been by there in a while.

RachElMarch 26, 2019 12:19 AM

I've read this whole page and only at the end suddenly realised you are not talking about mail boxes at your house. Which I assumed all had 'shark teeth' style slots. picking the lock sounds like exponentially less effort. You are talking about a post box - the kind the postperson attends on the bicylce or motorbike to retrieve the large quantity of motherlode in a big sack, once or twice a day. Added to the confusion is I understand the US has a system whereby one can send outgoing mail from ones own personal letter box, by raising the red flag. Or is that just in the pictures?

RachElMarch 26, 2019 12:22 AM

maybe this was the real intention of the IRA and pillar boxes in London.
Quick access to grannies christmas cards, perhaps a winning sweepstakes ticket sent off by the claimant.
Why didn't anyone ever consider this? Not enough creative thinking in Westminister, I'll say.

JonMarch 26, 2019 2:24 AM

@RachEl

"one can send outgoing mail from ones own personal letter box, by raising the red flag."

Also known, in some rougher neighborhoods, as the "Steal Me" flag. Getting something out of your own mailbox is a lot easier than out of a USPS roadside box.

J.

RöstigrabenMarch 26, 2019 3:34 AM

That had become a problem here in Switzerland and the Post switched to more secure outdoor post boxes several years ago.

don't rememberMarch 26, 2019 4:37 AM

@ Snarki, child of Loki

"Which leads to the interesting questions: there were Ninja a few hundred years ago in Japan. Where are they now?"

Killed by Chuck Norris.

David RudlingMarch 26, 2019 5:47 AM

Just so long as some "clever" person in the USPS doesn't propose fitting a device to prevent this which is also connected to the internet to report tampering. Another unnecessary IOT device to become vulnerable ....

LHHMarch 26, 2019 9:25 AM

My neighborhood of northeastern Queens, NY has been struggling with an epidemic of this for more than a year. It's been a constant refrain of the local precincts' crime prevention teams to post valuable mail from inside the P.O. only, and the rollout of upgraded mailboxes is in full effect. QNS.com

Amusingly, it was apparently so lucrative an undertaking around here that some thieves decided the whole "fishing" schtick was a waste of valuable time. They pulled together a few strong guys and a van so they could just rip the whole box off the sidewalk and drive away with it. Points for chutzpah, but it didn't work.

VinnyGMarch 26, 2019 9:47 AM

re: The crime has become more common in the past few years.
How common? The linked article has zero metrics. Isn't security supposed to balance risk against cost? Further - Does USPS *really* intend to mitigate this by wholesale replacement of mail boxes? How many millions will that cost? Per Baba K: If the magnitude really does require the issue to be addressed (again, no metrics,) surely existing mailboxes could be modified. If the suggestion of a "motion direction detector" is infeasible (I do like it, but wonder what should happen next, after "anti-peristalsis" is detected :) it would seem ridiculously cheap and easy to retrofit a smaller slot that would allow letters only.

PeterMarch 26, 2019 11:03 AM

@VinnyG
Very few people use letters as a means of communication anymore, which means the proportion of mail containing bills is much higher now. So assuming a similar risk per letter stolen now vs then, we can assume that the risk/reward is much better now.

Rach ElMarch 26, 2019 6:32 PM

Surely there's an operational solution to this.
If the postperson collect mail at say 18hrs, only mail deposited after that time is going to be stolen - given that thieves strike in the tiny hours. The thieves can only steal after hours deposits.
A sliding deadbolt by the postperson could secure the hatch on mail collection preventing deposits, and open it again at 07hrs. Only one mail collection a day for at risk boxes.
Rip out all the boxes and have secure walk-in rooms a la ATM'S for after hours posting. That would be cheaper than hi-tech implementation

Sed Contra March 26, 2019 7:10 PM

Change your mail delivery as follows. Have the mail delivered by persons unknown at times unknown in a thickly stuffed unmarked manila envelope directly to an apparently beat-up, disused, rusty mail box, at the edge of an unkempt, weed strewn yard, surrounding a decrepit apparently abandoned house, with a good number of large trees. There should be a yellow chalk mark somewhere on the fence. If the loose metal fence gate is hanging by one hinge and makes gentle creaking sounds, so much the better. Pick up your mail at 2 am. Be driving an early fifties American make car, black in color (the delivery should also be made using a black car) . Make sure you're not followed. Leave expeditiously.

TatütataMarch 26, 2019 8:31 PM

Have the mail delivered by persons unknown at times unknown in a thickly stuffed unmarked manila envelope directly to an apparently beat-up, disused, rusty mail box, at the edge of an unkempt, weed strewn yard, surrounding a decrepit apparently abandoned house, with a good number of large trees.

And the mailbox can be recognised by its muted posthorn and a marking that reads "W.A.S.T.E.".

Nothing will beat the Trystero postal system!

VinnyGMarch 28, 2019 1:53 PM

@ Peter re: "Very few people use letters as a means of communication anymore..." Plausible. I would need to see a statistical analysis of types of mail deposited in street corner USPS boxes before completely agreeing with your proposition, however. On the other hand, I suspect that such an analysis might indicate that those boxes no longer serve any compelling purpose of any kind, which would ensure that you will never see it...

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