Most of us look forward to getting mail this time of year because postal carriers deliver gifts and holiday cards instead of just bills. But the mail stopped coming for one Polk County woman.
"After three or four days, we weren't getting any mail," recalled Elizabeth Kapkey.
She reported the problem to her local post office branch and was shocked to learn somebody had placed a vacation hold on her mail. A short time later, somebody picked up her mail, including several packages from eBay.
Postal Inspectors and detectives with the Polk County Sheriff's Office started looking for a thief. They reviewed videotape from inside the post office where Kapkey's mail was picked up and issued an arrest warrant for William Allendale Bess. The 20-year-old was charged with scheming to defraud and the criminal use of personal identification.
Kapkey believes Bess may have lived in the house for a few weeks back in 2006 when she rented it out, but says he was never on the lease.
"The mail is actually pretty safe, but it does occur," said Alexandria Papageorge, a postal inspector in Tampa who worked the case. "We are in tough economic times so people are looking for every avenue to find funds and sometimes they prey on these situations."
Papageorge says identity theft is the most commonly reported crime linked to mail theft. According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, there were 2,776 arrests across the country in 2010. Last year, the number was slightly down, to 2,505 arrests.
In many cases, cash or gift cards were the targets.
"We recommend not putting cash in the mail. I know there are still people who do mail cash, like grandparents who really do want Johnny to have that $5 or $10 bill," continued Papageorge.
She also encourages people who buy gift cards and send them through the mail to hold on to the store receipt because it often has a number on it that will allow investigators to track the card.
"If we find out that a card was used at a particular retailer or business, we might be able to get a video," added Papageorge.
The video might then help authorities track down and catch the thief trying to use it.
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