It’s an almost routine sight for Fox Island Postmaster Theresa Goss: whole bundles of undelivered mail — usually found stray from its intended destination —coming back through the Fox Island post office.
The bundles are made up of the remainder of what has been rifled through and discarded as mail thieves go from box to box, weed out valuables and shove the rest into one mailbox or simply throw it on the road.
On Fox Island, Goss gets about three reports a month, but that’s just what the post office knows about. Mail theft is a largely underreported crime. That’s one of the main problems with tracking the theft.
“Just from the reports that I see coming through ... I would guess at least a couple of times a week,” said Lt. Larry Minturn, who cover the Peninsula, Eatonville and Foothills dispatches for the Pierce County Sheriff.
The problem isn’t limited to the Gig Harbor and Key peninsulas; Minturn deals with it at all the different detachments.
“It’s not just the Peninsula, it’s everywhere in Pierce County,” he said.
While Minturn says that all across Pierce County in rural and non-rural areas mail theft is an issue, Goss thinks that location can play a role.
“Especially out here on Fox Island, the boxes are out pretty rural and there’s not a lot of monitoring,” Goss said. “I think the criminals kind of jump on that.”
Shima Garrison, postmaster at the Wauna post office, said mail theft incidents tend to happen in spurts. Sometimes it can happen as much as two to three times a week. Around Christmas there is usually a spike in theft, as often thieves will follow delivery trucks to try to snatch packages, she said.
This time of the year can sometimes see a spike in incidents as well, Goss said. The mail usually contains tax refund checks, and graduation and Mother’s Day cards. Personalized cards are a major target: They often contain cash or checks.
“It really stings (for addressees), especially if they only end up getting the envelope back,” Goss said.
Peninsula residents often take to social media forums, such as Facebook, to report problems of mail theft in their neighborhoods. On the Gateway’s own Facebook page, a picture of a smashed mailbox was posted, and one woman posted that she found out she’d been a victim from her credit card company.
One of the ways to prevent theft is to make sure mail does not sit in the box for a long period of time and also to not let mail pile up for days, Goss said. Minturn, Goss and Garrison all suggest locking mailboxes or, in some cases, renting a post office box.
While a locking mailbox may not prevent theft entirely, it does act as a deterrent, Minturn said.
“(Thieves) want to be quick and just grab and go,” he said.
Neighborhood Watch groups can be key to busting potential mail theft. It’s important to be on the alert, Postmaster Garrison said.
“Don’t be afraid to call (the authorities) on it,” she said.