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Mountain View residents on alert as mail goes missing

Villa Street. Cypress Point Drive. Avellino Way. Mount Vernon Court.

Despite last month’s arrest of six Santa Clara County residents suspected of filching countless pieces of mail from Mountain View apartment complexes, residents of multifamily units along or near Central Expressway are continuing to report the crime.

At the West Court complex alone, thieves have broken into mailboxes nearly every other week over the past few months, said Lawrence Tom, a resident there.

“According to our HOA manager, they started in the South Bay, and they started working their way north. … It’s just now that it’s up in the Peninsula that we got hit, but before, I guess it was more common in the South San Jose area,” Tom said.

At this time, the primary target seems to be cluster mailboxes, the kind that feature multiple doors and slots, according to the Mountain View Police Department. The thieves use counterfeit or copied keys to access the large master door panels postal employees open to deposit mail, and then they snatch the contents of individual slots. They’re indiscriminate, sometimes stuffing entire duffle bags with bills, magazines, letters and grocery store fliers.

“They’re looking for everything and anything,” said Katie Nelson, Mountain View Police Department spokeswoman. “The thing about mail theft that people have to remember is that it’s much like an auto burglary where it doesn’t matter if they see a bag and what’s in there. It’s just that they see something and they want to get it. With mail, it’s one fell swoop: They grab it and then they’ll sort through it later.”

Credit card offers and personal identification information used to make such agreements are commonly coveted booty, Nelson said.

“It’s something that we’re seeing across the Bay Area, unfortunately, and (we’re) just ensuring that folks are not only aware of the situation, but doing all they can to help us be able to prevent them as much as possible,” she said.

Preventive measures

Prevention includes checking one’s mail slot every day, securely closing and relocking the door afterward and reporting suspicious activity to law enforcement authorities. Online tools are also useful. The U.S. Postal Service’s free “Informed Delivery” service provides notifications with a digital preview of letter-sized mail en route to residences so that missing items can be noted by the recipient. Stop unsolicited advertising like preapproved credit card offers through optoutprescreen.com, the Consumer Credit Reporting Industry’s website. Place deliveries on vacation hold by visiting holdmail.usps.com/holdmail.

In the case of West Court residents, repeat complaints to the USPS ultimately led to new hardware for their mailbox banks the week of Feb. 4.

“We usually file a police report, and then we have our HOA manager go down to the postmaster general and complain,” Tom said. “Maybe he’s been down there so much they just said, ‘OK, we’re going to quiet him up and go replace the locks or something.’”

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service offers up to a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of mail thieves.

To report tips about suspects or stolen mail, call (877) 876-2455.

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