If 2011 is any indication, 2012 will be worst year for the post office

For years, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation has studied and reported about the U.S. Postal Service.

But this post is not based on reporting. Rather, it’s based on anecdotal evidence. Watchdog Nation has had some terrible experiences with USPS in 2011. As the post office struggles with multi-billion dollar deficits, the threatened closure of more than a thousand postal stations and the possible shutdown of Saturday mail delivery, it’s safe to say that Ben Franklin’s pet project is going to hell.

Example #1

A friend mailed us an Olympus recording device. But when it arrived, there was a thumb drive inside instead. Watchdog Nation complained to the postal service but there was nothing that could be done.

Stolen by a postal employee? Most likely.

Our theory: a postal employee thought it was a lavish electronic device (by feeling the envelope) and opened it. The employee stuffed something else inside and the package went on its merry way. (By the way, we tracked the thumb drive’s owner down at an area church and sent it along — something USPS wasn’t able to do.)

Example #2

Watchdog Nation could kill ourselves for our own stupidity on this one. We know better. We mailed an important check via Priority Mail three days before it was due. But it didn’t arrive in time, and now we face a $53 late charge. Yes, we definitely know better. USPS promises that Priority Mail Delivery will be delivered “within 2 days in most cases.” WITHIN MOST CASES. The fine print. Jeez.

 Example #3

Look at this Christmas card we received. Need we say more?

Example #4

Ditto for this envelope that was sent to us. It was perfectly addressed, but it was sent back with “Return to Sender/Not Deliverable As Addressed/Unable to Forward.”

Yet there wasn’t a single mistake on the address.

We complained to the postal service and received this answer:

“We apologize for not responding sooner. 

 “We were attempting to determine where the problem occurred which is why I asked for the original envelope.  It was our thought that the mailpiece did not even get to Keller, but was returned from one of the plants that processed it.

 “However, the part of the envelope that you provided didn’t have the barcode where we could check which machine it ran on.  I thought I provided that information to you at that time, but evidently I did not.

 “In the interim, we did speak to all the employees that distribute mail to the PO Boxes in Keller to reinforce proper processing of all PO Box mail in the event that the mishandling did occur in Keller.

 “We do apologize for the mishandling of the mailpiece and any inconvenience that was caused as a result.

 “Thanks. Manager, Consumer & Industry Contact”

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And thanks to you. 2012 is going to be a hellish year for the USPS.

And such a shame because in recent years, things seemed to be getting better, not worse.

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Open Letter to the U.S. Chief Postal Inspector

Memo to: Guy Cottrell

U.S. Chief Postal Inspector

The recipient: Guy Cottrell

From: Watchdog Nation

The sender: Newspaper columnist Dave Lieber

Dear Chief Inspector:

I write on behalf of thousands of people whose mail has been stolen from blue postal collection boxes in North Texas. My city, Fort Worth, leads the nation in mailbox thefts, according to records I obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Sir, an incident last month shows how the crime-reporting system, such as it is, is faulty — and how innocent people are unnecessarily hurt because of a lack of information. You’re the leader of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. You can easily fix this.

As readers of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram // Dave Lieber Watchdog column already know, for more than two years, I have publicly shared information about mailbox thefts in the region, mostly because authorities refuse to do so. The postal inspectors who work for you say they cannot release date-and-place details of mail thefts from public boxes, at the request of the U.S. attorney’s office. Providing such information, they say, would jeopardize their criminal investigations.

Others, including me, believe that people have a right to know when something as important as their mail may have been stolen so they can work quickly to prevent identity theft.

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Case in point: a June 3 incident at the Trinity River post office on Oak Park Lane in Fort Worth.

A reader tipped me that the two outdoor blue boxes were missing. Where did they go?

When I called the post office, an employee who answered the phone told me that nothing had happened.

Then I called the U.S. Postal Service, and spokesman Sam Bolen told me that the mailboxes were defaced and taken out for repainting.

“We have nothing to indicate mail was stolen from these collection boxes,” Bolen said.

Well, I do.

Watchdog Nation took this photo in late 2009 of a mailbox break-in outside the Haltom City, Texas post office.

After I reported the conflicting statements by postal employees, I heard from two people who placed mail in Trinity River post office collection boxes June 3. They say their mail never arrived.

Both told me that they, like me, had tried to learn what happened and couldn’t get a straight answer.

Elaine Stoltz says checks she mailed were stolen from the box. She figured it out when the checks didn’t arrive at their destinations. Then someone walked into her bank with a temporary driver’s license in her name and withdrew $1,500 from her bank account. Stoltz believes that the thief used information from the stolen mail. Her bank covered the loss.

A Fort Worth man told me that his mailed checks also never arrived. Then someone used a fake check with his name to buy $290 worth of merchandise from Walmart.

The man said that when he called the postal inspector’s office to complain, an employee “tells me on the phone that as far as they could determine, no mail was missing.”

I must ask: How do they know? (Apparently, they don’t.)

That same man then stopped a mail carrier on his route. When asked, the carrier said, “We’re really not supposed to talk about it, but something did happen.”

Chief Inspector Cottrell, the solution is one that is used in other parts of the country. I’ve found that in other areas, authorities do release details of mailbox thefts. This helps victims begin cleaning up identity theft problems sooner rather than later.

Please change the policy in North Texas. Allow all public mailbox thefts to be reported. Be more forthcoming.

There’s no doubt that the postal inspectors in our region are good at what they do. In fiscal 2010, the Fort Worth office reported 195 arrests and 192 convictions related to mail and identity theft. That’s among the best in the nation, but then again, they have a lot to work with.

Tarrant County had 60 thefts in 2009 and more than 80 last year (and those don’t include thefts from private mailboxes).

Certainly, we have a special problem here and things are getting worse before they get better.

Thank you,

Dave Lieber

On behalf of Watchdog Nation

# # #

Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation.

Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

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Fort Worth is No. 1 in thefts from blue outdoor postal collection boxes

Fort Worth has a reputation for rodeos, art and friendly people. Today, sadly, Watchdog Nation gives Fort Worth another title.

And it hurts because Watchdog Nation is headquartered there.

Cowtown is the No. 1 city in America for thefts from blue outdoor postal collection boxes. Texas is the top state for such thefts.

That news comes courtesy of a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. I requested details about mailbox thefts for 2010.

Watchdog Nation took this photo in late 2009 of a mailbox break-in outside the Haltom City, Texas post office.

Three hundred thefts from blue boxes were reported nationwide last year. Two hundred were in Texas; 34 were in California.

 

Of the 10 pages of a spreadsheet provided to me by the postal inspectors who investigate these crimes, seven pages related to Texas boxes.

Fort Worth had 45 reported thefts last year. Arlington had 28, Dallas 25, Houston 20, San Antonio 13, Grand Prairie 10 and Austin none.

Fort Worth had 1 of 7 of all mailbox thefts in the nation.

Why?

Police spokesmen in Arlington, Dallas and Fort Worth declined to speculate. The area office of the postal inspectors, which does not publicly report the crimes, meaning that customers cannot figure out whether their mail might have been stolen, also declined to comment.

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A. Lee Fritschler, a professor of public policy at George Mason University in Virginia, studies postal operations. When I asked him why Cowtown is No. 1, he joked, “You’re lawless down there.”

He questioned me closely about the data, then explained that there was not enough information to speculate.

He noted that only a small amount of mail is stolen from the boxes. “I’m a big critic of the way things are going, but they’re pretty good at not losing mail.”

I asked the national spokesman for the postal inspection service how much effort is put into catching the thieves.

Lawrence C. Dukes Jr. says the crimes, which inspectors call volume mail thefts, are usually conducted by organized groups. In fiscal 2010, the Fort Worth regional office reported 195 arrests and 192 convictions related to mail theft and identity theft, which is often the result of a mailbox break-in.

Of the 195 arrests, 46 arrests and 43 convictions were related to volume mail theft investigations.

I’ve learned that thieves either pry open the back of the box with a crowbar or use a fishing line and a sticky substance to remove mail.

Nationwide, Dukes says, volume mail thefts were down 12 percent from the previous year.

Not in Tarrant County, though, where I reported about 60 thefts in 2009. For 2010, I count more than 80.

Nationally, there were 213 arrests and 180 convictions of volume mail thieves. That means that about 1 in 5 volume mail thieves convicted nationally are from North Texas.

Dukes’ advice: “The safest method to mail letters is to bring your letters directly into the post office or hand them to your letter carrier. Postal customers should make every effort to mail letters before the posted collection times and avoid leaving mail in a collection box overnight or when the post office is closed.”

Visit Watchdog Nation HeadquartersDave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

Like Watchdog Nation on Facebook

Watch Watchdog Nation on YouTube

Twitter @DaveLieber

Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

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