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Mailbox break-ins a concern at LOW

Authorities are investigating a series of break-ins of mailboxes in Lake of the Woods and at the Locust Grove Post Office that have spurred residents’ concerns about potential identity theft and security. 

The latest incident involved an outgoing mailbox being broken into sometime between 10 a.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Boat/RV storage area mail station within LOW.

LOW General Manager Phil Rodenberg said that over the past six months, officials have discovered more than 20 break-ins of parcel delivery boxes at four mail stations in the Orange County community: the Back Gate, Small Marina, Harpers Ferry and Boat/RV storage area.

Each station includes individual mailboxes and outgoing drop boxes that are the responsibility of the Postal Service, and also larger parcel delivery boxes belonging to the LOW Association.

The parcel boxes allow for delivery of packages too large to fit in the individual mailboxes. An individual receiving such a package has a key to one of the parcel boxes placed in his regular mailbox by the mailman. Those parcel boxes were the target of the numerous break-ins.

“It’s been a nagging issue for the last few months,” Rodenberg said, “but it really came to a head at Christmas time, when we had lots more parcels being delivered.”

In response, Lake of the Woods asked the Postal Service to stop delivering parcels to LOW parcel boxes. Since then, LOW residents who receive packages too large to fit in their individual mailboxes must pick their parcels up at the post office.

LOW officials are working to beef up the structure and locking mechanism of the parcel boxes.

About two weeks ago, someone broke into outgoing mail drop boxes at the LOW stations. On the same day, burglars also targeted the outside mail drop box at the Locust Grove Post Office.

Since then. Lake of the Woods officials have encouraged residents to place their outgoing mail in the inside drop box at the post office and enlisted the help of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the Postal Investigative Service.

Team leader M.J. Romano of the Postal Investigative Service in Richmond said the break-ins are being actively investigated.

“I have investigators assigned to the case, working with law enforcement in the area, and working with the community to develop a suspect in the case,” Romano said, “but right now, we really don’t have a lot of leads to go on.

“At this point, we have no evidence of any of the mail being stolen having any connection to financial fraud,” he added.

Anyone who believes his mail was stolen in one of those incidents, he said, should call the Postal Investigative Service hotline, 877/876-2455.

While cases of mail theft from locked collection boxes are rare, Romano said, it is a federal crime punishable by up to five years in prison for each offense.

“This is a priority for us,” Romano said. “The Postal Investigative Service is committed to solving these issues.”

Dan McFarland: