Where’s the mail? Postal thefts on the rise in Central Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Thieves targeting your mail: It’s an increasing problem in Central Virginia, and 8News has uncovered that too often the sticky fingers belong to postal employees.

“My birthday is in August and I received maybe two cards. And then I had eight different people say, ‘hey did you get my card? Nope never got it,” said one Richmond woman who asked not to be identified.

She believes her cards and birthday cash were stolen.

Another Richmonder told 8News her packages sent via U.S. Mail have been lifted.

“I am pretty positive it got stolen off my front porch,” said the woman who also asked not to be identified fearing she’ll be targeted again.

Meanwhile, Richmonder Tim Toy tells us for about a month the mail at his downtown office was arriving outside the mail slot.

“It had been opened or damaged,” Toy explained. “We received donations at that address and definitely envelopes were opened. Sometimes checks were there and sometimes they weren’t.”

8News has uncovered mail theft in the area is on the rise. Over the past five years, there have been more than 400 cases of mail theft in the Richmond district, which includes Henrico and Chesterfield.

We found thieves rifling personal mail, swiping credit cards, ATM pins and sometimes even prescription drugs.

“I think it was probably the mail carrier,” admits the Richmonder who has her birthday cards snagged.

Toy also suspects his former mailman was the one lifting letters and donations from his non-profit downtown.

In light of their suspicions, 8News did some digging and found of those 400 mail thefts cases in the Richmond region, 159 were listed as internal mail theft.

“It’s disappointing when people aren’t trustworthy in general,” says the woman who had her packages stolen.

Through a Freedom Of Information Act request, 8News combed over the case files for thefts involving Richmond postal employees and found postal workers were stealing everything from food stamps to Walmart gift cards and birthday cards with cash.

In other cases, mail carriers were caught sifting through letters and then dumping them in the trash. In one incident, 1000 pieces of mail never delivered was tossed in the dumpster.

“I don’t know who really was responsible, but it didn’t make me feel confident in the postal system,” Toy admitted.

The problem isn’t just in Richmond; it’s happening across the country. Convictions are up 36 percent over the past three years.

A semiannual report to Congress from the U.S. Postal Services Office of Inspector General shows more than 1800 cases of internal mail theft were investigated last year, resulting in 550 convictions.

8News wanted to question the postal service about this growing internal problem. 8News also wanted to ask about those Richmond case files the station reviewed. 8News wanted to know why the postal service redacted the names of the mail employees caught stealing; why protect convicted criminals?

8News even offered to travel to Baltimore to meet with the Inspector General. but was told this multiple times:

“We do not do on camera interviews,” Lance Norrington, special agent in charge of public information for the Office of Inspector General, said in a voicemail to 8News.

Instead, we had to settle for this statement:

“The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is a core component of the more than $1.4 trillion mailing industry. In Fiscal year 2016, USPS employed over 500,000 personnel; delivered approximately 154 billion pieces of mail—45% of the world volume– to over 155 million delivery points nationwide; and added 1.1 million new delivery points to its massive network. The vast majority of items entrusted to USPS arrive safely and promptly to the proper recipients. Unfortunately, mail theft, destruction of mail, discarding of mail, and willful delaying of mail do occasionally occur. The U.S. Postal Office of Inspector General aggressively pursues allegations of fraud, waste and abuse in postal programs and operations, including employee misconduct. OIG receives allegations from many sources  and takes these allegations seriously. We review each allegations and as appropriate investigate and work with judicial and management authorities to protect the interests of USPS and the public. Each allegation is reviewed individually and on its own merit, so your question on why a particular region appears to have a higher number of reported investigations is not that simple. Investigative and audit reports are a snapshot in time and may not reflect the climate of a region over a different or longer time period. Also, differences in the number of complaints and resulting investigations may be triggered by a particular event or even from multiple allegations from a single source.”

When we tried to ask if the postal service was taking any new steps when hiring employees or training them, we got this statement back from Freda Sauter with USPS Corporate Communications:

“The U.S. Postal Service considers the sanctity of mail as its highest priority.  We continue to work very closely with our law enforcement partners at the Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Postal Service Inspection Service to ensure that sanctity.  The more than 600,000 men and women who work for the Postal Service are hard-working, responsible and exceptional employees who would never consider engaging in any type of misconduct. Customers can share general concerns, complaints and compliments at any time at our toll free number at 1-800-ASK-USPS (275-8777). Customers in the Richmond area  also are welcomed to ask questions to local postal representatives at 804-775-6313 during normal business hours.”

Still, most of the victims 8News spoke with express frustration with the postal service in getting items or the value of their items back when they disappear.

“I reported it and the insurance wouldn’t be refunded to us,” says the woman who has her packaged swiped off her porch.

“Nobody ever followed up,” added the Richmonder who reported her birthday mail missing.

So, what can you do to avoid being a target?

The postal service recently launched informed delivery, which emails residential customers who sign up black and white images of letter sized mail that will be delivered to them, so you’ll know what to be expecting and what’s missing.

Other suggestions include retrieving mail from your mailbox every day; don’t let it sit in the box overnight. Request your mail be held if you are going on vacation. Also, don’t send cash in the mail and consider having packages delivered to your office so they’re not sitting on your porch tempting thieves.

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