As mailbox fishing incidents continue to plague the town, Needham police are warning residents not to use the town’s postal mailboxes. 

“We are asking ALL RESIDENTS to not use the outdoor blue Post Office bins. Please bring your outgoing mail directly into the Post Office during office hours,” Needham police said in a statement issued July 6. 

The Police Department’s warning was prompted by an incident early July 3 outside the main post office on Great Plain Avenue. According to police, thieves were seen stealing mail by mailbox fishing  — using a string attached to a sticky object to pull items out of the mailbox. Typically, thieves then look for checks, credit cards, or personal materials that would enable them to commit identity fraud. If they find checks, they sometimes engage in check “washing,” meaning they use chemicals to alter the face value and the recipient on the check before cashing it. 

In this particular incident, Needham police said, “The suspects were gone on arrival but mail was left scattered outside of the mailbox.”

When contacted, U.S. Postal Service spokesman Steve Doherty said the Postal Inspection Service, the Postal Service law enforcement division, is dealing with the ongoing problem. He provided a statement from the agency regarding the Needham situation. 

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is aware of incidents such as this and is actively working with our partners, to include the Needham Police, to identify the individual or individuals involved and hold them accountable for their crimes. While the U.S. Mail remains a very secure way to move sensitive and valuable items, the mailing public can take steps to protect themselves. Customers may always deposit mail inside a Post Office during normal business hours.  Customers who believe they are the victim of mail theft should report this to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 1-877-876-2455.”

According to the Police Department’s 2022 end-of-year review, mailbox fishing is a growing problem in town.

The number of counterfeiting/forgery crimes rose significantly from the 14 recorded in 2021. “There were 44 incidents of counterfeiting/forgery in 2022,” the report said. Seventeen of the 20 that remain under investigation are related to mailbox fishing, which has been an ongoing issue in Needham and surrounding communities.”

Indeed, this issue is not unique to Needham. Wellesley police issued a similar warning last year, and Arlington has had similar problems. The Postal Inspection Service echoed the police department’s recommendation that residents deposit their mail inside the post office during regular business hours, and also suggested that residents not let incoming or outgoing mail sit in their home mailboxes. 

Residents who see any suspicious substance on their mailbox or suspicious behavior around mailboxes are urged to notify postal inspectors because multiple reports in the same area can help authorities recognize there is a significant problem.

Needham resident Daniel Barbarisi is a senior editor at The Athletic and a non-fiction author.

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