October 22, 2011 in Washington Voices

Raised flag a red flag for mail thieves

 

It was early afternoon on a beautiful mid-September day, when a friend’s mother, Marlene DeGagne, saw the mail carrier arrive on her street, Conklin Road. She walked out and placed two pieces of outgoing mail in her mailbox, flicked up the red flag, and kept watch from her window.

The carrier was only a few minutes away when Marlene saw a gold car come down Conklin. It suddenly crossed over to her side of the street, and the young female driver backed up across Marlene’s driveway to get closer, and then opened her mailbox.

“I thought she was putting in a flier or something,” said Marlene. “Then I saw her reach in and it hit me: she’s taking my mail! I opened up my screen door and hollered, ‘What are you doing?’ ”

As Marlene ran out the door the driver laughed as she grabbed the mail, then sped down the street, giggling with her companion. “I know she heard me,” said an indignant Marlene. “How brazen is that? But it seemed like something she was used to doing.”

The thieves got away with a money order for Marlene’s grandson and a check to the Department of Licensing for her license renewal. Marlene had to change all her bank accounts and the routing on her electronic transfers, which took hours. “If I hadn’t seen it happen,” she said, “I’d have waited for two weeks to get my license, never knowing they hadn’t received it, and thought the money order got lost in the mail.”

As one of Marlene’s daughters experienced mail theft last year, she knows it’s risky to put mail out and usually goes to the post office. Also, with development on Broadway and new street improvements, her quiet, two-lane road has become a busy thoroughfare between Broadway and Sprague. But she thought she took reasonable precautions.

Veradale Postmaster Margie Dennis recommends never putting outgoing mail in the mailbox, especially with the flag up. “It’s waving a red flag, saying, hey, there’s mail here,” she said. “It’s safer to bring mail to a collection box, the post office, or place of work.” Mail theft, a federal offense, usually rises with increasing drug problems such as meth, she explained. “They need money and have nothing better to do. “People put out their mail before going to work, and it sits all day before the carrier gets there.”

Since delivered mail sits there too, why even have a home mailbox anymore?

Predators are everywhere, without an ounce of decency, and nothing is safe. Last year I had a store gift card stolen from a birthday card, and learned that gift cards should be sent in a box, rather than in a greeting card, because thieves can feel them. Fearful of using our credit card to buy online, I have a reloadable debit card, which isn’t tied to any of our accounts, from our credit union for this purpose; the security is worth the small fee to reload it.

We’re all potential victims of theft and fraud, so we have to be smarter than sleep-ruining, account-tapping, peace-hijacking jerks. It’s not easy and it can be darn inconvenient.

Our feelings of safety and confidence erode one crime at a time.

“I’m not ever, ever putting mail in my box again,” Marlene said ruefully, “even if it’s just a card to my sister. It’s an experience I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. It scares me that by stealing my mail, someone has so much information about me, including my phone number. It’s nerve-wracking.”

You know what I’d like to do? Wrap up and stamp the violation and grief given by heartless thieves and return to sender. 

You can reach Deborah Chan at tabbytoes@comcast.net. Previous columns are available at spokesman.com/ columnists/. 


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