Police caution local residents about mail theft

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published March 6, 2013

BIRMINGHAM — Within two days, two Birmingham residents reported that mailed packages were stolen off their porches before they could arrive home to receive them.

According to police reports, the first of the thefts occurred at around noon Feb. 20 in the 1400 block of Ruffner. The resident told police a package containing a Toshiba laptop had been delivered by UPS and was stolen from her front porch before she could retrieve it.

The next incident is said to have occurred sometime between 11:30 a.m. Feb. 21 and 6:30 a.m. Feb. 22. A resident in the 1200 block of Edgewood reported that a package containing a DirecTV cable box had been stolen from the front porch.

In both cases, there are no known suspects or witnesses at this time. According to Cmdr. Terry Kiernan of the Birmingham Police Department, there likely won’t be any clues in the future as to who committed the thefts.

“We get hit a couple times a year. Usually, it’s one day, and three houses will have stuff taken within the same block,” he said. “There’s really no way to protect yourself from this stuff because they come up and drop it off and leave. Other than residents trying to be home when the package is delivered, there’s not a lot you can do.”

In this day and age, when shopping online is easier and more popular than ever, Kiernan said he’s surprised that more incidents like this are not reported. And while there’s no real answer as to how people can protect themselves from mail theft, he said they can look for more secure options when ordering items to be mailed.

“If you’re able to request a signature confirmation at delivery, they won’t leave it. They’ll take it back with them. But then what’s the point of getting something mailed if you have to pick it up at the post office or UPS office?” he said.

In addition to requesting signature confirmations upon delivery when available, Kiernan advised residents to use the tracking numbers that are often given to customers when they’ve made a purchase online.

“It’s amazing how accurate they can be with the tracking number. They can get it down to, ‘Your package will arrive on this day between these hours.’ You can check your tracking number and try to figure out when it’s coming and try to be home to accept it,” he said.

Kiernan added that it’s unlikely many stolen packages will ever be found because the thefts happen so quickly and leave no witnesses. But he said that, in cases of electronics, it’s possible that victims could report the theft to the manufacturer, and down the line, that could potentially lead to a recovery.

“When you have electronics stolen, you don’t know what the serial number is because you never opened it. But sometimes the companies can enter it into their system as stolen and if anyone tried to go in and get warranty work (they’d get caught). We’ve seen that done with cellphones before; they shut down the phone and it can’t be used,” he said.

The United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) also offers tips on its website on how mail customers can protect themselves against thieves, like notifying your local post office when you plan a vacation so your mail can be held, making it a habit to promptly remove mail from your mailbox when you’re able to so you don’t become a known target, and notifying your post office or other delivery service immediately when a package you were expecting doesn’t arrive.

Above all else, the website says, it’s important to develop a relationship with your neighbors so they can keep an eye on your house and report something they see out of the ordinary when mail has been delivered. The USPIS advises customers to consider starting a neighborhood watch program, or asking a trusted friend or neighbor to pick up mail when you’re not immediately available to receive it.

Kiernan agreed, and said the best defense against any type of crime is an alert community.

“You’ve got to have neighbors looking out for neighbors. When you see someone walking away with a package off your neighbor’s porch that’s just been delivered, call the police and let us come out there and figure out what’s going on.”

For more tips on how to avoid mail theft and other mail scams, visit www.postalinspec tors.uspis.gov.