SON OF A *BLEEP*!
Or words to that effect, streamed from my mouth.
Stung by a bee? No.
Side-swiped by a car? Nah.
In fact, I’ve almost forgotten what happened that caused me to lose my cool in such a conspicuous manner. Actually, no, how could I ever forget?
The mailman stole my mail!
How Confident Am I That The Mailman Stole My Mail?
But wait, it gets worse.
It wasn’t my mail the mailman stole, but the mail of my 2 year old son. Not only that, it was his birthday present they stole. Imagine that, the US Post Office stealing from babies (well, toddlers). Maybe I can find a lollipop around here somewhere to use as bait the next time around.
Now, I am not a detective. I don’t even play one on TV.
But the photo above is what I found when I opened up my mailbox. My locked mailbox.
Notice anything unusual? Like how the envelopes are all opened?
I had about 10 pieces of mail in my mailbox that day. Only my son’s 3 birthday cards were opened. From 2 different states. Of the three, one still had its check, but the two cards with cash? Well, no cash any more!
Key takeaway: Don’t send cash in the mail!
We followed up with the senders of the cards and confirmed they had sent cash, but fortunately it was a small amount missing. Infuriatingly, when we reported the problem to the local post office, they tried to tell us it was routine damage caused by the mail sorting equipment.
Your mail sorter can open just the birthday cards (not the other envelopes) and remove just the cash (not the checks)?
Did that feature cost extra?
I should also mention all the other folks who have reported the exact same theft in nearby communities.
Now, I am not a lawyer either.
So I suppose I should throw an “allegedly” in there, as in the mailman allegedly stole my mail. And to be clear, I’m not actually suspecting my mail carrier, but someone in my local post office or a regional mail processing center.
Granted, there is a small chance it wasn’t someone in the post office. Some random lowlife could have come along unlocking mailboxes along my street, in broad daylight, and stealing mail after it was delivered. But do you think they’d take the time to open the cards, check for cash, and put them back?
But however you slice it, my money’s on an inside job… inside the sorting room of the post office.
So How Much Can You Make Stealing Mail?
We are talking side hustle after all. How good of a side hustle is this? I mean, stealing from babies is fun and all, but what’s the financial upside?
According to the USPS Office of the Inspector General – the post office cops – there were 1,607 investigations and 493 arrests in the 2014-2015 year.
Google News search results for “post office” theft shows over 27,000 results in the past year. Obviously, big stories result in lots of duplicate coverage, but still, that doesn’t exactly jibe, and is a disappointing statistic any way you spin it.
And there’s always the Postal Reporter’s stream of mail theft reports. Remarkably long list, with something new almost every day. My personal favorite? The thieves who carved duplicate keys out of scissors (yes, scissors!) to open people’s mailboxes and steal their mail. Makes you wonder where they got the originals to duplicate, doesn’t it?
But let’s run the numbers.
As a postal carrier, it’s small potatoes. Call it an average of 700 households per postal route, say 2 people per household, 3 birthday cards received per person, and only one of them sends cash, say $10, and you can make a paltry $14,000 per year. Tax-free, granted, but hardly worth the risk considering how obvious the theft would be, and how quickly you’d be caught.
But when you start talking sorting station, the numbers get larger quickly.
There aren’t any public statistics for average number of households served per post office, but lets say one post office / sorting station covers 10,000 households, you could potentially clear $200K per year just swiping cash, just from birthday cards.
Nothing to sneeze at. But then again, that’s assuming you are getting all the cash in all the cards, and most importantly, not getting caught. How long do you think it would take before someone noticed, and came looking?
Considering the risks, and likelihood of getting caught, perhaps you’re better off doing focus groups as a side hustle…
So What Do I Do When Someone Steals My Mail?
There are steps you can take when your mail goes missing, or something is missing from your mail.
File A Police Report
Every police department will have a method for filing a report. It could be online, or it could be like my town where you have to visit your local police station. Whatever the method, if you want to get your property back, take the time to file the report. It shows the post office you’re serious about recovering your property.
File A Report With USPS
The post office has its own internal auditors and processes for recovering stolen property, so make sure you file a mail theft report with the post office.
Nothing ever came of my report, or if it did, I didn’t hear any outcome, but presumably, given enough data points, the post office will be able to find the thief and take action.
Notify Your Community
If your mailman is stealing your mail, he’s not just stealing your mail, he’s stealing everybody’s mail. So notify your community about the problem. The more people who hear about the problem, the more likely they will report their theft, giving the post office more data to help find the thief.
This could be your church, your HOA or apartment manager, or a neighborhood community like NextDoor. Know a reporter on your local newspaper? Give them a ring while you’re at it.
How Do I Stop Someone From Stealing My Mail?
As an outsider, there’s not much you can about internal corruption at the post office. But keep in mind, when someone’s stealing mail, it isn’t necessarily the mailman – any common thief could be ransacking your mailbox or front door for goodies.
So here are some basic steps you can take reduce the likelihood of theft and increase the chances of recovering stolen mail, regardless of the culprit.
Secure Your Mailbox
If you have your own mailbox on the street or on your house, make sure you secure it. This won’t stop a determined thief with a prybar, but at least your local high school delinquent can’t just open your mailbox and pull out whatever they want.
Alternatively, get a mail slot, in your wall or door. While this does have drawbacks, like making it easier for nosy ne’er-do-wells to violate your privacy if they can lift the mail slot flap and see directly into your home, there are options that can give you the additional security without the compromise, like a mail drop into your garage.
Better yet, get a private mailbox. Whether it’s a USPS PO Box, UPS, or a local mail bodega, having your mail delivered to a separate locked location deters the thieves who steal your mail after it’s delivered, and limits the pool of suspects if something nefarious occurs.
Sign Up For Electronic Delivery
Have your financial statements, bills, and other transactional mail delivered via email. This will reduce the chances of someone stealing your identity by stealing your mail.
As for checks and other income, if you still get a physical check from your employer or other cash flow source, by all means join the 21st century and have your income deposited directly into your bank account.
Empty Your Mailbox Every Day
This is straightforward, but the less time your mail sits in the mailbox, the smaller the window for a thief to steal it. Living in a townhouse complex with a shared mail area, I can’t help but notice a few people that always seem to have an overflowing mailbox.
Check your mail every day. If for no other reason than you get a little more exercise when you’re walking to the box.
Is your mailbox out in the open where anyone can get to it?
Install a video camera to monitor your mailbox and one to cover your front door for any package deliveries.
There are a wide variety of HD video surveillance solutions available, many for less than $200 that are simple to install, or get your local handyman to do it for you. It won’t stop a thief, but will help the police find the culprit, whether it’s the local hooligan or a sticky-fingered delivery person.
Don’t Send Cash!
This should be obvious, but remind your friends, family, and any other regular penpals, not to send cash in the mail. Send a check. Do a wire transfer. Even Paypal (or better yet, a Paypal alternative).
But no cash. And no gift cards.
In The End
Ultimately, nothing happened in my case.
We didn’t file a police report, because it wasn’t worth the amount stolen. We did file a report with our local post office, but nothing came of it either. Unless you count an off the record mention that there had been several other similar thefts reported to the post office recently.
Obviously, but to be clear, as a side hustle this is a joke. My experience and story is 100% real, unfortunately, but I do not recommend or condone stealing!
The overwhelming majority of USPS employees are decent & hard working, and I have the highest regard for our mail carriers (you try walking a 12 mile route with a 40 pound sack, 6 days a week, 50 weeks a year, and see how long you last!). If you’re like me, you’ve never given much thought to the scale of the USPS, so I encourage you to check out the short and sweet 2016 Postal Facts and get learned on the epic work of our postal service.
But remember, never never never send cash (or gift cards) in the mail!
What’s your postal story? Anything stolen? Any carrier go above and beyond? Comment below and share your story. And please share this to spread the word about protecting yourself from postal theft.