About $70,000 in checks have been stolen out of 40 unlocked residential mailboxes, according to postal inspectors, and while police have arrested five suspects so far, there is no indication that the arrests are part of an organized theft ring.Postal investigators say the culprits use the guise of handing out menus or other legitimate fliers even though such deliverers are not allowed to place handouts inside mailboxes,"Postal regulations state that only authorized postal employees are allowed to put mail in the mailbox," said postal investigator Al Weissmann. "About 99 percent of the time, the (suspect) is someone delivering fliers."Many of the thefts have occurred in the Bayside, Douglaston, Oakland Gardens and Little Neck area."They like quiet, fairly affluent neighborhoods," Weissmann said. "They look for your typical unlocked mailboxes and have the signature of the payee forged. Sometimes they pass hands several times before getting deposited."Bayside resident Marty Gaffney, a recent victim of the mail marauders, had five checks stolen from his mailbox located right outside his front door. "I could poke my head out the door and get my mail," Gaffney said. "This is a very quiet neighborhood during the day. Any crime outside the house is very doable if you have that kind of criminal mind."He lost $2,000 in medical reimbursements, which he originally figured were lost in the mail somewhere. It was not until he called his insurance company that he realized his checks had been forged and cashed.Postal inspectors say the easiest way to deter mail thieves is to simply prevent them from gaining access."Put a lock on your mailbox," advised Weissmann. "And be vigilante. Try to retrieve your mail as soon as possible."Even though he had been victimized, the Bayside resident still managed to retain his sense of humor."This is the only time I wish I had bills in the mailbox," laughed Gaffney.Weissmann said mail theft cases are particularly difficult to solve because most people do not realize they have been robbed until it's too late."Part of the frustration is the delay in getting the information from the victims who themselves don't know for a period of time that they've been victimized," Weissmann said. "If they see suspicious activity, don't confront them, but call us. If they're positive they see someone stealing mail, call us and NYPD."The investigation was continuing and anyone with information was asked to call the postal inspectors office at 718-321-5607 and speak with case inspector Glen McKechnie.Reach reporter Scott Sieber by e-mail at news@times
©2005 Community News Group
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