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Mail and identity theft on the rise

In the digital era with so much focus on electronic security breaches, some identity thieves are taking it to the streets (or words to this effect).

In the digital era with so much focus on electronic security breaches, some identity thieves are taking it to the streets (or words to this effect).

According to a US Postal Service official, mail theft is on the rise, with the objective of getting access to financial information to exploit for personal gain.

The most extreme example locally was an armed robbery of a postal carrier in Rancho Cordova.

Juan Carlos Maldonado, 22, pleaded guilty in federal court. The case was part of a bank fraud scheme involving several people. They stole about 800 pieces of mail, which they culled for personal information they could use to gain access to bank accounts, credit cards and other personal information.

Maldonado, who is set to be sentenced Sept. 12, faces prison time and fines on charges including bank fraud, identity theft and robbery. The bank fraud charge carries the lengthiest potential sentence of up to 30 years and a fine as much as $1 million.

Not all mail/identity theft cases are so dramatic, but all have the potential to send their victims on months or sometimes years-long odysseys of dealing with bank, credit card and IRS headaches.

Paula Chafey-Merrill and her husband have been dealing with an on-going problem of mail theft from their Carmichael home for some time. Five years ago, they first realized what was going on when the USPS sent a courtesy notice to their home that a change of address had been filed in her husband’s name.

The thief was aggressive, going after his tax refund, bank accounts and even his frequent flier miles.

Eventually, they managed to extricate his finances from the clutches of the identity thief, but after another incident of theft from their mailbox, Chafey-Merrill started hearing from credit card companies about applications in her name that she never made.

She even got a Pep Boys credit card in the mail, oddly.

There isn’t a lot people can do to prevent a thief from taking their mail. They can get a locking mailbox (must be a model that is Postal Service approved). And although that can be a deterrent, it isn’t guaranteed protection.

Chafey-Merrill and her husband got a locking mailbox after his identity was stolen, but thieves with small hands could still reach through the slot. Chafey-Merrill once found a fake gold fingernail in the box instead of her mail – this preceded the barrage of unusual credit activity in her name.

Jeff Fitch, a postal inspector for the US Postal Service’s law enforcement arm, said the most essential thing for people to do is report it immediately to postal authorities if their mail is stolen. Incidents can be reported at 877-876-2455

“Technology is helping out in so many ways,” Fitch said. “Good video helps. That’s what we tell victims who have had mail stolen.”

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