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Redmond's Mail Boss helps protect customers from mail theft, fraud and identity theft
In 2005, Epoch Design had a check for $10,000 stolen from its mailbox.
The thief washed the check, changed its amount and cashed it in New York. A few months later, Epoch President David Bolles had his personal mail stolen from the mailbox at his Sammamish home.
“That’s what got us going,” he said about the creation of Epoch’s Mail Boss division in 2006.
This division of the furniture company — previously in Woodinville, now in Redmond — designs, manufactures and distributes locking security mailboxes. According to its website, “the Mail Boss locking security mailbox product line secures sensitive mail, helping consumers protect themselves from the epidemic of mail theft and identity theft.”
DESIGNING A SOLUTION
When Bolles went looking for a locking mailbox, he wasn’t very impressed by the selection. Many of the boxes with locks were cheap boxes with locks that could be pried open easily with a crowbar or screwdriver, he said. This led Bolles and Epoch to begin designing their own locking mailbox.
After submitting their first design to the United States Postal Service (USPS), the inspector general — who must approve all mailbox designs before they can be sold — contacted them to let them know he would approve the mailbox but it took him about two seconds to pry it open. Bolles was disappointed by this, even when the inspector general told them it usually takes him one second to break into other locking mailboxes.
Bolles did not want to sell mailboxes that could be broken into so easily. So it was back to the drawing board. The second design was pretty similar aesthetically but they used a different locking mechanism.
“He couldn’t get into it,” Bolles said about the USPS inspector general’s efforts to pry the mailbox open.
Mail Boss offers a number of products, from curbside mailboxes, to wall-mounted mailboxes, to multi-unit packages for neighbors who may want to go in together and purchase multiple mailboxes that could be mounted onto one post. The company’s mailboxes also come in a variety of sizes to accommodate people who may receive large packages on a regular basis. Mail Boss products are sold in various hardware stores locally and nationwide such as Ace Hardware, Dunn Lumber and Lowe’s. Single-unit mailboxes range from $100-220.
All Mail Boss mailboxes are made from galvanized steel, which Bolles’ daughter and Epoch marketing manager Jenny Deraspe-Bolles said can survive being hit by anything from a baseball bat to a car or snowplow. The mailboxes have two openings. One opening contains two slots for incoming and outgoing mail and can be accessed without a key by mail carriers. The second opening requires a key and holds the incoming mail, which slides down a chute from the top opening.
A COMPLICATED CRIME
Bolles said mail theft is sometimes referred to as a “victimless crime” because the thief is not breaking into someone’s home. But it is, he said.
When people steal mail, which is a federal crime, they have access to their victims’ addresses and potentially their banking and credit card information as well as other personal information such as their social security number. With this information, people can create false identities and ruin people’s credit — all without them knowing until it’s too late.
Bolles said it could be years before someone realizes they are a victim of identity theft.
“It’s complicated and difficult to track,” she said.
Deraspe-Bolles added that often times, “people don’t even realize (their mail has been stolen) until the police are involved.”
This was the case with her father, who did not know his mail was stolen until he received a call from a credit card company about a big-screen TV that was purchased with a credit card he did not own but was in his name. Bolles said he also received a visit from the King County Sheriff’s Office after deputies found his stolen mail — along with others’ — in a local motel.
A GROWING PROBLEM
Identity theft has been one of the fastest-growing crimes since the 2000s, with 10 million to 12 million victims a year, Deraspe-Bolles said, adding that the criminals are using low-tech methods such as stealing wallets, mail and trash to commit these crimes.
Recently in Redmond, an 18-year-old man was arrested and charged with multiple counts of possession of stolen mail. The Redmond Police Department (RPD) connected the suspect, Thor Andrews Jr., to about 100 cases of mail theft. Earlier reports state that Andrews had been stealing mail and breaking into cars to steal checks and credit cards to use for gift cards, which drug dealers now accept as payment.
Ernie Swanson, spokesperson for USPS’s Seattle district, said mail theft is certainly a concern for them and they do all they can to ensure the safety and sanctity of people’s mail. However, once the mail is in the box, the USPS’s responsibility is complete, but Swanson said they hate to see anything happen to it.
To help combat this issue, he said USPS tries to educate customers on how to protect themselves (see box).
Swanson also acknowledged that concerns about mail theft may lead people to pay bills and do their banking online, which will and has impacted the USPS.
“As more and more people do that, our bottom line is affected negatively, no doubt about it,” he said.
Because mail theft is becoming such a prevalent crime — particularly locally — Deraspe-Bolles said she thinks more and more people will switch to locking mailboxes.
“It’s unfortunate,” she said about the crimes, “but it’s created this demand.”
Here are some tips to protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft:
Use a good locking mailbox.
Remove mail as soon as possible and don’t leave anything in your mailbox overnight.
If you will be gone for an extended period of time, contact USPS to hold your mail or have a friend or neighbor pick up your mail daily.
Go to the post office to send mail or hand it to the carrier in person. If that is not an option, do not use the red flag on your mailbox to indicate you have outgoing mail. Deraspe-Bolles said the carrier will see that you are sending something and the red flag is just a red flag to thieves that you have mail in your mailbox.
Shred any documents that contain important information before recycling it.