CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — Between the holidays and the pandemic, many more packages are landing on peoples’ porches this winter, creating the perfect opportunity for thieves.
It’s difficult to gauge the exact size and scope of mail and package thefts; most Oregon police agencies don’t keep records specific to the crime.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office, though, says it has seen an increase in reports of package thefts during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the first 11 months of 2020, 371 mail and “theft from yard” calls were placed, a 50% increase from the previous year.
While the problem exists year round, U.S. Postal Inspector for the Portland region Adam Sale said, “There is a much larger volume of parcels being delivered around this time frame and I think criminals and the general public understand that.”
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) declined to provide KOIN 6 News records showing how frequently mail thefts are reported in Oregon, claiming the numbers are overstated due to unrelated customer complaints like mailbox vandalism and delivery issues.
Nationally, the USPIS initiated 1,278 mail theft cases in fiscal year 2019 and made 2,078 arrests.
“Oftentimes they have co-conspirators,” Sale said when asked why so many more people are arrested compared to the number of cases.
Co-conspirators either help with the theft itself or the crimes that happen later like bank fraud or identity theft. And the person who swipes a package from your doorstep may have a getaway driver.
But porch pirates have a faster reward than someone who steals a letter.
“People who are stealing mail from collection boxes … have to do something with the mail once they get it,” Sale said. “Parcel thieves can exploit whatever is in the box immediately. Either they sell it for money or they use it for their own purposes.”
So, just like you wouldn’t leave $10,000 cash sitting out in the open, Sale said the key is to limit opportunities for the crime to happen.
If you know something is arriving, make sure you’re home to bring it in right away, or make other arrangements. Sale recommends having someone else pick it up or having it held at the post office. If you’re going to be away from home for an extended period of time, have the post office hold your mail for you. And avoid leaving mail in a collection box overnight.
“A lot of these thefts happen late at night with no witnesses, so it’s very difficult to investigate them,” Sale said. Personal letters containing money or gift cards are more difficult to track down than mail with banking information, because the USPIS can work with banks and credit card companies to investigate the latter.
If the worst should happen and someone does steal your mail, make sure to report it to the USPIS right away.
“We can’t investigate things we don’t know about,” Sale said.
Report mail theft to 1-877-876-2455 or online at uspis.gov. Provide as many details as possible, especially if the stolen mail includes banking information or other personally identifiable information.
To hold mail while you’re away, call your local post office or create an account and do it online.