Mailbox theft a growing concern for RCMP

NANAIMO – Identity theft a prime motivation as rural community boxes being targeted up and down Vancouver Island.

Const. Gary O’Brien inspects the large bank of community mailboxes at the corner of Jingle Pot and Kilpatrick Roads along Nanaimo’s rural western edge. O’Brien said it is typical of the boxes targeted by mail thieves.

Kilpatrick and Jameson.

To most Nanaimo residents, it is a rural intersection west of the city, just past the B.C. Hydro substation on Jingle Pot Road, home to single-family homes on large, secluded lots.

To the community’s criminal underbelly, however, it is ground zero.

Seven times in the past 13 months, the corner’s small collection of community mailboxes has been ransacked by thieves hot for money and personal information.

According to the RCMP, it is a poster child for a rash of community mailbox crime afflicting not only Nanaimo, but the entire Island and beyond.

“It’s a significant issue,” Nanaimo Const. Gary O’Brien said. “They target areas where there is hardly any foot traffic, late at night, where they can fade into the bushes.”

Thieves are hopeful they may find cash stuffed in the odd envelope, but increasingly their focus is on nabbing driver’s licences, credit cards and any other booty they can put to use for identity theft.

“After the fact, we’ll kick in a door and find – no word of a lie – a thousand pieces of ID,” O’Brien said.

Nanaimo is certainly not alone in this concern.

Cpl. Jesse Foreman of Oceanside RCMP said Qualicum Beach was hit twice recently and Nanoose Bay another two, all under similar circumstances. Westshore RCMP reported a string of similar offences in Langford and the Highlands in the fall.

Cpl. Krista Hobday of Duncan/North Cowichan RCMP said the situation is the same in her community.

“It seems to be picking up speed. We were hit at four separate locations in the last week,” she said. “Canada Post is conducting their own investigation parallel to ours. No concrete suspects at this time but we always have a few on our radar for thefts like this.”

For its part, Canada Post would only reluctantly acknowledged the issue’s existence.

“While I understand the need to look further into the reasons behind the issue, I would like to say that there is only one type of person that chooses to break the law – and that’s a criminal and they are determined regardless of the target,” Canada Post spokesperson Anick Losier said in an e-mail.

“We unfortunately will not add further on the topic. In our experience, the more you speak of security, the less secure the intended topic becomes as it mostly feeds the criminals.”

Losier did not respond to a request for suggestions on ways community mailbox holders could better protect themselves. Police had no such issues.

“The best way to protect yourself is to regularly pick up your mail,” O’Brien said. “And if you see something suspicious, report it immediately.”

Getting someone you trust to pick up your mail when you can’t and offering to make daily pickups for seniors and shut-ins are other ways to ensure the boxes are empty when Joey Bottomfeeder and his cronies come knocking. Neighbours keeping a casual eye out for each other, or forming Block Watch groups can also be effective tools.

Using registered mail or finding other alternatives for the delivery of valuable material should also be a consideration.

“What the public needs to be aware of is being more careful of what they send through the mail,” Don Varnadore, president of Local 786 of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (Ladysmith/Nanaimo/Parksville) said.

While realizing home delivery is not a practical option in all cases, Varnadore said it is the safest option. Making sure community mailboxes are in the most brightly lit, high-traffic areas available is also important.

“The more visible you can make those, the better chance you have,” he said. “Those superboxes, they are just red flags waving ‘come and get me.’”

Since January of 2015, the Nanaimo detachment area has been hit 51 times in 20 different locations, including Shady Mile, Lantzville and along Hammond Bay Road.

A Canada Post plan to replace door-to-door mail delivery for 460,000 Canadian households in favour of community mailboxes was frozen following the election of the federal Liberals in October.