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Postal service replacing mailbox banks to combat thefts

Andrea Lipomi of Mountain’s Edge was taking an early morning walk last fall when she came to her community’s mailbox banks to see a startling sight.

“The entire front was open,” she said. “It was obvious that all the mail had been taken. I thought, ‘Oh, this is great. I hope nothing important was taken.’ ”

She knew a member of her HOA lived nearby and knocked on his door to alert him. The two were looking over the broken mailbox bank when a van pulled up. It was a mail delivery person but not a postal carrier.

“You know, they drive their own cars and they don’t wear a uniform, but they have something to do with the mail?” Lipomi said. “He told us that one of the master keys for that type of cylinder lock had gone missing. He said it’s been happening all over the valley. I asked if they (the post office) know it’s missing, how come they don’t change the locks? He said it was on the list, but that it’s a very slow list.”

Recently, her bank alerted her that her credit card was used for a suspicious charge in Ireland. Lipomi said she couldn’t say for sure that it was related to the mailbox break-in, but that it was a distinct possibility. She said she is now wary of sending something through the mail and will often take something to the post office to drop it in the slot.

“But it’s an inconvenience because it’s out of my way,” Lipomi said.

The problem has been especially disconcerting in Sun City Summerlin. The mailbox break-ins there began around Christmastime. Bill Henriod, chief of the Sun City Summerlin Security Patrol, said they were likely fueled by the possibility of money being sent inside Christmas cards.

“I tell people all the time: Do not put mail in the outgoing slot (at your mailbox bank). Use the big blue ones that the post office places around town instead,” he said.

The last week of February saw four mailboxes in the retirement community compromised, he said. By the time it’s reported and he can send a car, the perpetrators are long gone. He said some residents circumvent the problem by renting a post office box at a mail center type of business.

“With the economy continuing to suck, people need money for things, for food,” Henriod said. “They think we’re rich here, but … (some of us) live on Social Security. So, we’re far from being rich.”

City Councilman Bob Beers said his office has received numerous calls about mail theft, and all he can do is refer them to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service office where such issues are handled.

Marilyn Wassell, customer relations coordinator for the U.S. Post Office’s regional office, said there are 44,000 such mailbox banks in the Las Vegas Valley. It does not keep figures on how many mail thefts occur. But, she noted, tampering of mailboxes or mail is a federal offense, punishable by up to five years imprisonment and/or $250,000 in fines.

The post office is swapping out the old style with new, more secure ones, she said.

“But with that many, it takes time and a lot of money,” she added.

Wassell suggested residents have their mail held when going out of town, a free service the post office offers. She also suggested not putting out your mail the evening before, so it’s not sitting there overnight.

“We know how important the mail is to our customers,” Wassell said. “We are committed to replacing boxes and restoring service as soon as possible.”

To report mail concerns, call the Postal Inspection Service office at 877-876-2455.

To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email jhogan@viewnews.com or call 702-387-2949.

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