Authorities plan response to spike in mail theft

Sunday, February 1, 2009 | 5:01 p.m. CST

OSKALOOSA, Kan. — In another indication of the rough economy, law enforcement authorities in Kansas and Missouri are warning residents that mail theft is increasing, particularly of mail containing checks and credit cards.

A group of local, state and federal authorities met last week in Oskaloosa, Kan., to map out their strategy as they confront a spike in mail theft in northwest Missouri and northeast Kansas.

"It's hard to know that your mail has been stolen," said Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Herrig.

In total, authorities said they've received 50 to 60 reported thefts and other crimes in their area, prompting the cooperation of law enforcement in several Kansas counties, the postal inspector's office, Kansas City area law enforcement and the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

The group met to compare information about reported mail thefts, forgeries and vehicle break-ins that may be connected.

"It's actually not that common for that many agencies to be involved," said Donald Obritsch, a U.S. postal inspector in the Kansas City field office.

Investigators said they believe one group of suspects is responsible for most of the incidents although they haven't yet made any arrests. Herrig said one team of suspects is believed to be a man and a woman, but others may also be involved.

Part of the discussion last week focused on jurisdiction. Some of the crimes can only be tried at the state level, but mail theft or bank fraud are federal offenses.

In Jefferson County, Herrig's deputies are increasing their patrols near rural mailboxes after nearby residents reported their credit cards being stolen and then used by someone else.

One resident didn't report their mail going missing for several days, at first thinking it was only a delivery problem and that no mail came that day. But the resident later discovered that someone was using their credit card, taking advantage of account numbers printed in the missing mail.

Besides patrols, Herrig said deputies are stopping to talk to people near rural mailboxes, just to be on the safe side.

"We hope they don't get upset about us stopping to check," he said. "If it's theirs, fine. Hopefully, they'll understand that we're looking out for their best interest."

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