As urban neighbourhoods prepare for the transition from doorstep mail delivery to community mailboxes, rural residents are already wrestling with a growing problem — smash-and-grab mail theft.
Theft from community mailboxes is increasing and there may not be a solution for it any time soon.
An East Paul Lake resident contacted me awhile back about theft from the community mailbox there, and recent thefts have also occurred in Pinantan, Jamieson Creek and Black Pines as well as other places in the region.
While community mailboxes are outside the jurisdiction of regional government, I talked about the problem with TNRD staff, RCMP, the Pinantan-East Paul Lake Community Association, and Canada Post.
Community boxes are a one-stop invitation to thieves with a pry bar or even a screwdriver who use the tool to easily pop open boxes and grab the mail. They’re after valuables like gift cards and parcels or simply looking for personal information they can use for identity theft.
With the Christmas season over, the problem may wane for a time but it shows no signs of going away. Police told me they believe crooks from the Coast travel up the Coquihalla to Kamloops, drive some rural routes “collecting” mail for a day or so, and head back to the big city with their proceeds.
Unless they’re caught in the act, bringing them to justice is a daunting challenge. Both Pinantan and Gottfriedson Estates at East Paul Lake have suffered community mailbox thefts several times. Some of the Pinantan mail that was tossed by the thieves was found and returned but often it simply disappears and the intended recipients might not even know what’s gone missing.
When I reported the Jamieson Creek and Black Pines thefts, Canada Post said its practice was to get to the affected mailboxes and repair them within four hours and it looked to me as though they met that target.
High visibility isn’t necessarily a deterrent — the Black Pines community mailbox is located in a highly visible residential area. The East Paul Lake community mailbox, on the other hand, was moved from the main road to a less visible location around a year ago. The Canada Post official I spoke with said he’ll look into the background of that move.
But beyond trying to respond quickly, the remedies are few. Notices went up on the mailboxes telling residents of the break-ins and advising them to retrieve their mail on a daily basis to reduce the chances of theft.
Canada Post also works on prevention, including a bait mail program. Though Canada Post has its own security team and works with RCMP, its position is that the theft itself is a police matter. It is, however, installing stronger locks on community mailboxes, though there’s no word on when they might be coming to this area.
Mailbox thieves are so determined, though, that sometimes the best locks in the world won’t stop them — last month they dragged away two entire community mailboxes in Surrey. Those boxes were newer, more secure models.
“It’s absolutely painful,” a Canada Post official told me about such thefts.
A Kamloops Daily News story in July 2013 reported mail from community boxes being found in ditches in rural areas. A Vancouver Sun story from April that year said B.C. was leading the country in the rate of theft from community mailboxes.
And CBC reported in July 2013 it had found through freedom of information requests that Canada Post had recorded more than 4,800 incidents including vandalism, arson and theft involving the community boxes in 130 communities between 2008 and 2013.
There are more than 20,000 community mailboxes in B.C., the article said.
I’ll continue to follow this and will report back on any further information I receive on the issue of community mailbox theft.
Mail theft prevention
Canada Post recommends the following to minimize the opportunities for mail theft:
- Pick up your mail as soon as possible after it’s been delivered.
- If you’re planning a holiday, have someone pick up your mail on a daily basis or take advantage of Canada Post’s Hold Mail service. For a small fee, Canada Post will keep your mail at the delivery office while you’re away and deliver it upon your return.
- If you receive mail that’s not yours, please don’t leave it in an unprotected area. If the mail has been delivered incorrectly, please write, “delivered to wrong address” on the front of the envelope.
- If addressed to someone not living at your address, write “not at this address.” In either case, deposit the mail into a red street letter box or the outgoing mail slot of your community mailbox at your earliest convenience.
- If you see suspicious activity, call police at 911.
- If you see that a mailbox has been overturned or vandalized, contact Canada Post at 1‑800‑267-1177.