Mail boxes targeted for ID theft

Not just Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows vehicles being hit by thieves

While small-time culprits are breaking into cars and trucks, a more determined group is still after your mail – in particular, your identity.

And there are enough of them that a local lock company has an employee dedicated full-time to repairing group mail boxes at apartments and condo complexes.

“We have one truck, that’s all he does, every day, because mail theft is so bad in the Lower Mainland,” says Dawn Illerbrun, with Bell Locksmith.

“It kind of comes in waves. But it’s been like this for years now.”

She works closely with Canada Post and said the agency has taken the steps it thinks it needs to repair the public community mailboxes.

“But it’s up to the public to decide if that’s being done in time or not.”

The Maple Ridge company repairs private group mailbox panels that are both inside apartment lobbies and outdoors in condo complexes throughout Metro Vancouver. Often, getting into a community mail box is as simple as using a big crowbar to reef open the panel.

“But they’re getting into apartment buildings, as well, and breaking in that way, too,” she said.

“It’s all about identity theft. They want to get as much information on a person as they can.”

She said the drug trade is spurring the crime. “The little guy breaking into that panel, he’s not doing anything with that information. He’s basically selling it.”

In return for providing identification, the low-level thief is paid in drugs.

Ridge Meadows RCMP say that so far this year, up to April 19, there have been 70 reports of damage to mail boxes, mostly from the rural, eastern part of Maple Ridge. That’s 27 more than for the same period last year, said civilian media spokesperson Dan Herbranson.

“Most of the incidents are occurring on the old style mail boxes.

“The new ones are proving a lot more difficult for thieves to gain entry to.” He advised residents to pick up their mail daily and if they’re away, get the post office to hold delivery.

“It’s one of those crimes not easily solved.”

Theft from mailboxes is still an issue for the Protecting Our Communities group on Facebook, with several members reporting incidents.

Recently, a community mail box was busted into near 249th Street and 108th Avenue, causing residents to have to pick up their mail at the post office on Lougheed Highway and 208th Street. That’s about the third time in the last few months, leading one resident to say he’s getting used to driving to Canada Post to pick up the mail.

Joanne Longden has had her mailbox on 239B Street broken into three weeks ago, while Kerry Macandrew hasn’t had a mailbox in more than a month, noting eight have been hit in his neighbourhood.

Natalie Bradley saw her community mail box, in the 116th Avenue and 232nd Street area, broken into two weeks ago. She checked her mail at 10 a.m. that day, then returned at 3 p.m. to find the break-in.

“ … it must have happened in broad daylight.”

That was unnerving because she’d had recently received her oath of citizenship to allow her to become a Canadian citizen, which could have been lost had her side of the mail box been hit.

Since then, Canada Post has replaced the entire community mail box with a newer, more secure one.

Canada Post spokesperson Anick Osier said it’s seeing a reduction in mailbox break-ins when the new models are installed. But the Canada Post won’t give specific numbers about the numbers of mail box break-ins in Maple Ridge.

“Having said that, one is too many for those who are affected and we understand how frustrating it is for them, hence why we are working very hard to reduce the inconvenience to them,” said Osier.

Kerisma Vere, with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, said Canada Post is focusing too much on restructuring and not enough on repairing boxes.

“Right now in Maple Ridge, Mission in Abbotsford in Port Coquitlam we have lineups of people collecting mail (at post offices) from broken-in boxes.”

She said there’s been an increase since November. “The only thing I can think of is they’re not fixing the boxes.”She said the new community mailboxes are not any more secure. The new ones can be hauled away easier, she said.

She said it can take between eight and 15 minutes to break into a new community mailbox. “We’ve seen that they’re being broken into just as much as the old boxes.”

She said Canada Post recently told Mission council that it takes a minimum of three weeks to repair a box.