Saturday, January 7, 2017

Mail Theft: Happy New Year

Whenever I visit my family on the east coast, I have my mail held at the post office. I tend to get a lot of mail, so for the past couple of years, when filling out the little form, I mark that I will pick up the accumulated mail when I get back, rather than having the postal carrier deal with it. On the form you write the date you want mail held, and the date you want service resumed. However, if you mark that you’ll pick up the mail yourself, then service won’t resume until you do. So that if a flight is delayed and you get stuck somewhere along the way, the service won’t resume until you’re back, even if it’s a day later than you’d expected.

I got back on January 5th, rather late due to a three-hour delay in Las Vegas, and the next morning went to the post office to collect my mail. I handed the woman my driver’s license, and after a few minutes she came back with only four pieces of mail. “There must be more,” I told her. “I was gone for nearly three weeks.”  She checked again, but saw nothing. “Seriously, there has to be more. Last time they wheeled out my accumulated mail in a cart. And I know there are certain things missing, like a paycheck.” She suggested that perhaps the carrier is delivering the accumulated mail today, even though I marked down that I would pick it up. I asked her to find out, because there are some things in my mail I needed to deal with right away. Well, the mail carrier was contacted, and the woman came back to tell me someone had picked up my mail.

“What? Who? How? No one should have picked up my mail. The card I filled out was explicit that only I could change the dates, and that I would have to do it in writing.”

She gave me the name and phone number of her supervisor, and told me to call her. She also told me to talk with my carrier. On my walk home from the post office, I called my apartment manager, because he’s the only other person with a key to my specific mail box. I thought that maybe if the mail carrier had mistakenly delivered my mail, and he saw that the box was full, he might have taken it upon himself to retrieve it. He didn’t.

When I got home, I checked my mailbox, and there was mail in there. I wasn’t sure if it was just one day’s worth of mail or two. But nothing should have been in there at all. I then called the supervisor at the post office, and explained the situation to her. She was already aware of it, and had spoken briefly to the carrier. She told me that he had been delivering my mail, and that was someone was picking it up. “But why was he delivering it? I had my mail held.” She said that was something she’d discuss with him when he returned. “When do you expect him back?” I asked, and she told me he was scheduled to return at 4 p.m., and that he’d probably be at my apartment building around 3.

He actually arrived around 2:30 p.m., and I went out to talk with him. What he told me was that my card with the dates I’d be gone was misplaced or lost or something – and that several other cards were likewise misplaced. Because he couldn’t remember the dates, he delivered my mail. And then, when my box was empty the next day, he assumed I was home, and kept delivering my mail. “But why did you start delivering at all? Why not wait until you were sure I was back?” He said he was sorry. I’m sure he is, but that’s not going to get my mail back. And clearly the person who took my mail knew I was gone. I figured it had to be someone who works at the post office. He or she took the card (and the others), and then checked those buildings. How that person would know that my mail carrier would resume delivery, however, I don’t know. Perhaps he or she just took a chance.

“But what about the mail that I did pick up today? There were four items held at the post office.”

“That was at the beginning,” he told me. So, what, he resumed my delivery after just one day? And then why wouldn’t he have brought those four items with him the next day? I’m glad he didn’t, of course, but it doesn’t make sense. I also asked about the mail that was in my mail box. I told him each of the items, and asked if that was just the previous day’s mail or two days’ worth. “That was all yesterday,” he said. “When I put that in there, the other mail was already gone.” I called my apartment manager and explained everything that I knew, and asked if anyone else had mail taken. No one else had.

There are two keys that access my mail box. One is the individual key that I have. The only other copy is with the building manager, a guy I trust. I haven’t made any other copies, and I’ve lived at this place for seventeen years, so it’s not like the previous tenant returned with a key. The previous tenant, in fact, is deceased. Also, I rarely valet park, and when I do, I hand the attendant only my car key, not my set of keys, so it’s not like someone could have made a copy from mine at any point. So I just can’t see any way that someone else would have a copy of my specific key. And even if someone did, how would that person know I was gone? I never announce my vacations. I don’t post anything on Facebook about it until after I’ve returned. In fact, I never post where I am at any given moment, because it seems like an invitation for trouble. The other key is the master key, which opens all of the mailboxes for the building. The supervisor at the post office told me that apparently some thief has a copy of this, because there has been trouble in other buildings in North Hollywood. “Wait, why weren’t the locks replaced when you realized someone else had a copy of that key?” I asked. She said the locked were supposed to be replaced last year.

I called that supervisor back after speaking with my mail carrier. The regular mail carrier works five days of the week, which means that there is one day when someone else fills in. So I asked her to speak with whoever filled in during the weeks I was gone, and ask if that person saw the “hold mail” form, and if he or she delivered my mail or what. She promised she’d bring it up at the meeting the next morning when everyone would be together. She also told me to file an official report with the postal inspector. So at 3:18 p.m. I called the postal inspector, and we discussed the case. She gave me a case number and said the investigation would begin at my local post office.

I’ve decided to also file an official report with the police. This is, after all, a federal offense, and when the person is caught, he or she should see some serious jail time.

It seems to me that it has to be someone who works at the post office. There were only three people in Los Angeles that knew when I’d be gone. One was my very good friend Ryan, who drove me to the airport and picked me up. The second is my neighbor, the tenant of the apartment next to mine, who promised to remove any fliers or junk from my door while I was gone (I’d done the same for her before). The third is the apartment manager. That’s it. All three of those people I trust. The only other ones who would know I was gone would be anyone at the post office who saw the hold mail form. The form which mysteriously was misplaced. It is interesting that the one day the thief didn’t pick up my mail was the day I returned. So the person had to know exactly what day I was due back. Sure, it could be a coincidence, but I don’t believe that. So I think that eliminates the possibility of the random thief who has a master key. That person would have taken everyone’s mail, not just mine. Plus, would such a thief return to the same building every day for nearly three weeks? That seems risky. And it’s too much of a coincidence that it would be exactly the time I was gone. Why not the week before I left? Why not the day I got back?

I went to the grocery store last night, and when I got back, another neighbor pulled into the spot next to mine. I asked her if she’d had any mail taken. She hadn’t. And, interestingly, she’d been gone for several days during the time I was gone. But she hadn’t filled out a form to have her mail held. Instead, she just let her box get filled. None of that was taken. A thief with a master key certainly would have taken her mail too. Because the master key opens all mail boxes simultaneously. Why would the person focus solely on my box? Because he or she knew I wouldn’t notice or report it for nearly three weeks. I wonder if it will prove worth it to the thief when he or she is caught.

I called my bank, of course, and there had been no suspicious activity. And no monthly statement had been sent to me during that time, so that information is safe (well, as safe as anything is these days, I suppose). I called and had a stop payment put on my paycheck, and a new one will be sent to me in a few days. Mostly what the thief got were CDs and DVDs that were sent to me to review. I hope he or she likes folk, blues and jazz. But what else was sent? I don’t know. I just wish my mail carrier hadn’t taken it upon himself to start delivering my mail. And I still can’t figure out why he did that.

Well, later today I’ll see what the police have to say about the matter.

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