It's designed to be a safe spot to drop off rent money, but Clearwater police are now investigating a number of cases of money orders stolen from leasing office drop boxes.
Christmas at Matthew Natereli's apartment is no longer looking so bright. His holiday spirit was snatched away with one slip of paper.
"We have an eviction notice on our door. Pretty much pay your rent by this date with a $100 fine, or you're evicted in three days," he said Friday.
Problem is, he says he already paid. He put his money order in the drop box at Mainstreet Apartments in Clearwater Tuesday night.
"When we put our money order in the drop box, we make sure to actually look in the drop box and you can actually stick your hand in, and we'd push the money order through and watch it hit the ground," Natereli said.
Someone else got to it before the leasing office, cashing the money order and taking off with hundreds of dollars.
The complex has since closed off the drop box until they find a more secure solution.
Clearwater police say they're not alone. They're investigating a half-dozen of the crimes at complexes across the city.
It's unclear how the crooks are breaking into the boxes.
"We don't know that yet. Whether they're picking the locks or whether they have a tool to drop into the drop box with maybe some kind of adhesive and then pulling up," said Clearwater Police Department's Rob Shaw.
One thing's certain: the thieves know what they're after. Nearly every case involves a money order.
"The money order's free reign. It's like handing over cash to somebody," Shaw said.
It's money Natereli will likely never see again...leaving a serious hole in his pocket this holiday season.
"I don't know what I'm going to go about doing yet, not everybody out there has extra money around to pay rent twice," he said.
Police advise anyone who pays rent with a money order to hand it over to their leasing office in person. They're also working with apartment complexes across Clearwater to alert them of the problem and checking out their drop boxes to make sure they're actually secure.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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