Snail mail like graduation cards and prescription deliveries are being stolen from home mailboxes…
Amazon packages are arriving ripped open and not as a result of typical shipping damage…
Security cameras are catching people stealing boxes right off someone’s front porch and driving away…
This is a disturbing trend that’s been gaining momentum across the nation and unfortunately, the Lake Travis area is not immune to it either.
What’s worse is people caught in this frustrating loop of mail theft or tampering spend time and energy trying to handle these issues responsibly through the proper chain of command, yet despite best efforts, nobody can get satisfaction.
This isn’t an isolated “neighborhood concern,” because it’s happening all over the place — in Steiner Ranch, Lakeway, The Hills, Serene Hills, Dripping Springs, Spicewood, etc.
We see daily posts on social media networks and neighborhood websites about missing packages, missing mail, deliveries to wrong addresses, no deliveries at all. It goes on and on and on.
We’re exploring this topic in hopes that the Lake Travis community can get some parcel peace of mind.
It’s a federal crime
First of all, it goes without saying that stealing mail is a federal offense. Whether it’s a postcard or a package, if it has been through the US Post Office, it’s federal.
If someone is caught committing a federal crime — like stealing a graduation card out of someone’s mailbox — it can result in federal prison time (up to 5 years) and fines.
There is a federal agency dedicated to protecting citizens against these types of crimes, the United States Postal Inspection Service. They handle issues like mail fraud, mail theft, return to sender sticker scams, mailbox vandalism and more.
Texas law and parcel theft
If a package is stolen that was not delivered by a mail carrier (US Post Office), but by a delivery service (Amazon), the theft penalties are dictated by the value of the stolen property.
If someone steals a package not knowing what’s inside and opens it to discover a new laptop worth $5,000, that’s a crime of felony theft which carries jail time, fines, etc.
It should be noted, due to the recent spike in parcel theft crimes in Austin, “lifting a package” is not being taken lightly.
Snail mail is still huge
In our technology-driven world, you may snicker the concept of snail mail, but it’s still bigger than ever. In fact, it’s the biggest.
According to the USPS website, “With almost $68 billion in revenue, the Postal Service is at the core of a more than $1.3 trillion mailing industry that employs more than 8 million people. The nearly 487,000 employees of the Postal Service compose one of the largest civilian federal workforces in the country.”
Who’s doing what?
Now let’s move on to the subject of tampering with Amazon packages.
It’s obvious there are a few possibilities in this scenario.
The Amazon seller sent the package in proper condition, yet the package arrives torn open with or without its contents. Obviously, someone committed a crime between point A (package shipped) and B (package safely arrives at your home). Enter security cameras.
To catch a porch pirate
Surveillance cameras catch “porch thieves” in action all of the time. A porch thief will simply walk up to your home and take your packages right off the front porch. Or, he/she will open the package, steal the contents he/she wants and leave the rest.
It’s worth mentioning that many of our Lake Travis friends and neighbors were (and are currently) victims of these crimes, even in gated communities.
Sadly, we saw an increase in posts on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day about missing Christmas gifts, which is especially cruel and frustrating.
In fact, a shocking incident like this made the Austin news right before Christmas, when an Austin woman captured video of a thief who was dressed like a UPS worker. He stole a package right off of her porch in broad daylight.
Mail crime rings
In 2017, a big mail crime ring was busted in Steiner Ranch. Thieves had been burglarizing the community mailbox kiosk for months.
According to law enforcement and US Post Office officials, thieves were using outgoing mail slots to force open the doors with crowbars, hammers, screwdrivers. etc.
It turns out, this style of mail slot isn’t really used anymore (due to these security issues) and Steiner Ranch will be replacing all of the mailboxes with newer, safer models. But this isn’t an easy “fix” — estimates for the upgrades have been quoted at $30k.
Who has access?
The more upsetting scenario is what if there isn’t a porch thief or a crime ring?
How do you explain packages that have been tampered with, whether they’re in your mailbox, on your porch or in your locked centralized (cluster) mailbox?
What about important mail that is just completely missing or constantly gets delivered to the wrong address or it arrives opened. Who else has access to these packages and our mail?
Unfortunately, dishonest employees exist in all industries and mail carriers are no exception.
According to a report from the United States Postal Service Office of Inspector General, the agency tasked with maintaining the integrity and accountability of America’s postal service, OIG special agents conducted 1,364 internal mail theft investigations, resulting in 409 arrests, 1,178 administrative actions, and approximately $3.2 million in monetary benefit for the Postal Service from October 2016 to September 2017.
When you view these stats in the context of the discussion, it should be noted that based on the size of the postal service, the fraction that’s committing these dishonest acts is incredibly small.
What do you do?
So we’ve established the obvious — it’s just wrong to steal from people — and it’s a crime on the state and federal level. But parcel theft is on the rise and criminals are not only crafty but oddly arrogant. How do we protect ourselves?
Informed Delivery by USPS
Sure, you can ask a neighbor to get your mail when you’re on vacation, but that’s not really helpful when you’re facing serious theft issues like we’ve mentioned above.
What might give you much more peace of mind is using Informed Delivery by USPS.
Based on what the future of mail and delivery seems to look like, this could be the next mail “normal” that everyone will be using anyway. Informed Mail allows you to do all sorts of things like digitally preview your mail, manage your package schedule, track packages, hold mail, etc. It’s worth checking out.
Report concerns directly to USPS
If you witness or suspect suspicious activity in your neighborhood, contact your local police or Postal Inspection Service.
You can call the OIG Hotline at 1-888-USPS-OIG (1-888-877-7644).
You can report mail theft by completing a mail theft form at www.usps.com or by calling 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777).
If you have parcel safety tips to share, please let us know in the comments section on our Facebook page.