New Thin-Slot Mailboxes May Have Solved the Scourge of ‘Mail Fishing’

By Carol Tannenhauser

There’s a new mailbox in town that appears to be reducing the crime known as “mail fishing.”

For more than two years, we’ve been reporting on thieves who drop sticky objects attached to string into U.S. Postal Service mailboxes, pulling up envelopes that adhere to the glue. Many of those envelopes contain checks, which the culprits then alter and cash. As recently as July, 2018, five checks were apparently fished out of a mailbox right in front of the Planetarium post office on 83rd Street, yielding a haul worth $53,000.

Now, it appears the mail fishing season on the Upper West Side is over — perhaps permanently. Beginning last May, every mailbox in the 20th precinct (59th – 86th Streets), and most in the 24th precinct (86th – 110th Streets), was replaced with a new “high-security collection box.”

On first glance, the box looks just like the old one — same bright blue color and curved top, same eagle — but gone is the creaky, pull-down chute. In its place is a narrow slot that leaves some first-time users looking like contestants on Candid Camera (or Punk’d for younger people). One man told us he “gave up,” deciding the box was “locked.” Two sisters peered, pulled, and pounded, before spotting the large white arrow pointing to the mail slot.

“We know these boxes work,” said Donna Harris, public information representative for the U.S. Postal Inspections Service, New York Division. “Statistics show that where we have placed them, reports of mail theft have significantly decreased or gone to zero.”

According to Deputy Inspector Timothy Malin, commanding officer of the 20th precinct, suspected mail fishing incidents dropped from 17 in the period from January-March 2018, to 4 from October-December (and the latter may have been before all the new boxes were installed). Community Affairs Officer Stephen Jones of the 24th precinct said “We have noticed a marked decrease in incidences of mailbox fishing-related crimes since the upgrades were completed.”

The Postal Service plans to replace all of the city’s existing mailboxes — most of them over 50 years old — with new ones, equipped with many safety features Harris declined to disclose. She did describe the process postal inspectors went through to combat mail fishing.

“First, we looked at crime statistics with the help of NYPD, and identified areas where there was an uptick in mail theft. Then, we focused on prevention, how to harden the targets, which we did with the new boxes. Then, there is enforcement through arrests. It’s been an all-encompassing process,” Harris concluded, “but we were focused on getting it done to protect our customers and the U.S. mail. Postal Inspectors take the security of the mail very seriously. We have been protecting it for over 250 years.”

“The real test of the new mailboxes’ effectiveness will come around tax time, when we typically see the largest spike in thefts,” Malin said.  “I’m optimistic.”

NEWS | 13 comments | permalink
    1. Sean says:

      Don’t send checks in the mail using mail boxes. Send checks through your banking app.

      • Cato says:

        — “Don’t send checks in the mail using mail boxes. Send checks through your banking app.”

        Then they’re not checks. Payments, maybe, but not checks.

        So you’re advocating doing away with the entire checking system?

        • geoff says:

          not quite right, you are.

          checks received can be photographed and deposited electronically by more than one institution using the institution’s app.
          Chase and TDBank are two examples.

          they remain checks, and are deposited electronically.

          do you disagree?

        • Weird That Way says:

          And if your payee does not accept electronic payments, the bank will send an actual check. I’ve done it.

        • Sean says:

          They are checks. Your bank will send out an electronic check. It’s that simple. It’s called online banking. Things evolve. Things change.

    2. Nora B says:

      I’ve read that some thieves simply pry open the bottom of the mailbox to steal mail. I’ve stopped using the mailboxes and bring my mail directly to the post office.

    3. USPS Nightmare says:

      Perhaps a petty complaint, but I tried to mail a prepaid tiny box whose dimensions were about 1 cm too thick to fit in the new mailboxes. ‘Twas a bummer.

      • Bob P, Relentless Bookfinder says:

        Yes, honest folk pay a high price, considering these slots are too small for packages and large envelopes. I’m left the unenviable choice of trucking such articles to the P O myself, or handing them to the poor Letter Carrier to lug them in after a hard days work.

      • Hadituptohere says:

        Now have to walk blocks out of the way to find a post office and can drop off mail only during post-office hours. Not a petty complaint at all.

    4. Dave O. says:

      The NYPD have been suggesting that a gel pen be used to write checks, much harder to wash out (uniball signo ultra micro 207). Also, postal workers have been caught selling keys to the mailbox units. There is a problem at Cathedral Station 104th St, with letters & packages being opened by USPS employees, AssemblyMember O’Donnell’s office has been forwarding complaints to the USPS inspectors.

      • Kevin says:

        Fair to say that the “Cathedral” (how ironic) station is the least trustworthy in the nation. Why anyone drops off anything of value there hoping it makes its way to the addressee free of pilferage is beyond me. Go 68th and below if you want to have faith in clean delivery.

    5. Sarah says:

      At least they’re trying to address the problem.

    6. Kenneth says:

      There will be new idea to thief mail in the future. Also, most of mail carriers do the same thing too. As well other route mail carrier entered to other route while pretending delivery and steal any incoming or outgoing mail from the mail box too as my experienced and saw and reported postal inspectors who do not doing nothing while delivery on my route.