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Missing gift cards, opened packages: CBS46 investigates your stolen mail complaints

Of the 299,000 complaints the U.S. Postal Inspection Service received throughout the pandemic, less than 0.5% of them resulted in investigations.
Updated: Nov. 16, 2021 at 6:02 PM EST
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ALPHARETTA, Ga. (CBS46) — More than 12 billion letters and packages were expected to be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service this holiday season, but not all of them arrived as expected.

Our CBS46 investigation turned up a lot of mail theft complaints involving stolen gift cards, opened packages and more. And while the penalty for mail theft is a felony offense, we uncovered the thieves are rarely caught.

Canton watch collector, Lance Soncrant, buys a lot of his watches online.

“There was a listing I found. I liked it. We went back and forth, came up with a price from the person, and I purchased it,” Soncrant said.

The watch was being sent ‘priority’ so Soncrant could track the shipment and he was excited when he saw it arrive on his front porch. That changed quickly when he lifted the box.

“It was basically opened from the bottom, and the watch was missing,” Soncrant said. “Until now, never once did I ever think that I would not receive something that I spent my hard earned money on.”

The box Lance Soncrant received
The box Lance Soncrant received(CBS46)

Soncrant is one of nearly 200 people who commented on a Nextdoor post in the Alpharetta - Milton neighborhood group.

Andrew said, “my son received a birthday card in the mail today…it was opened and the gift card gone.”

While Sheila said, “I had checks stolen from my mailbox.”

CBS46 Investigates took their comments directly to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the agency that handles crimes that involve the postal system, and a spokesperson told us there were “no open investigations” regarding the information we provided, adding that they’re quote, “committed to identifying those responsible for mail theft and related activity.”

The charge for stealing mail is a felony that can carry up to five years in prison and a $250,000 dollar fine. But we found these thefts are rarely investigated. Through a public records request, CBS46 Investigates was able to obtain data of mail theft complaints.

Of the 299,020 complaints the U.S. Postal Inspection Service received throughout the pandemic, less than zero-point-five-percent of them or 1,090 resulted in investigations.

Of the 55,274 complaints the U.S. Office of Inspector General received from January 2020 through October 2021, roughly two-percent or 1,037 of them resulted in investigations.

Mail theft complaints - U.S. Office of Inspector General
Mail theft complaints - U.S. Office of Inspector General(CBS46)

These statistics didn’t surprise Paul Steidler – an expert and critic of the postal service.

“There’s an awful lot of temptation out there for thieves, just by nature of the large volume of mail,” Paul Steidler, a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute, a public policy thinktank.

Steidler also points to the mail delivery slowdown, that began on October 1st, as part of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s plan to cut costs.

Almost four of every ten pieces of first-class mail are now being delivered slower, he says, which means cards, bills, and tax documents will take roughly five days to reach their destinations, as opposed to the three day standard we’re used to.

“In fact, it’s going pretty substantially in the other direction. Mail service now is slower than it was in the 1970s,” said Steidler.

It’s something Cecelia Swinney in Milton has already started noticing.

“At one point my husband was supposed to get a check. The check never arrived, so we had to call and have a stop payment put on the check,” Swinney said.

Between thefts and delays, neighbors are fed up and they say they have one message for the postal service.

“You gotta do something about it,” Soncrant exclaimed.

“I do hope they can once again become a post office that people trust,” Swinney said.

Our CBS46 investigation also found that in 2021 in North Georgia, the most complaints to the Office of Inspector General came from customers in Atlanta, followed by Marietta, Alpharetta and Decatur.

If you suspect your mail is stolen, report it to your local police department and the postal inspection service. You can do that online at www.uspis.gov or by calling 877-876-2455.

Prevention tips to help secure your mail:

  • Promptly pickup mail. Try not to leave letters and packages in your mailbox or at your door for any length of time.
  • Track your packages to know when they should arrive and retrieve them quickly.
  • Don’t leave your mail unattended for extended periods. Have your Post Office hold your mail while you’re away. You can do this online at www.usps.com.
  • Never send cash or coins in the mail. Use checks or money orders. Ask your bank for “secure” checks that are more difficult to alter.
  • If you don’t receive a check or other valuable mail you’re expecting, contact the issuing agency.
  • Hand outgoing mail to your letter carrier, or mail it at the Post Office, an official blue USPS collection box on the street, or a secure receptacle at your place of business. When mailing something important, consider requesting Signature Confirmation for the intended recipient.
  • If you move, make sure you file a change of address with the Postal Service, inform your financial institutions and anyone with whom you do business via the mail.
  • Consider investing in a security camera system for your home. Video doorbells and cameras can help to both deter and catch criminals.