String of mailbox thefts targets Summit County residents along Highway 9 | SummitDaily.com

String of mailbox thefts targets Summit County residents along Highway 9

Residents of a community north of Silverthorne on Highway 9 woke last Saturday to find their mailboxes raided. Reports of similar incidents have cropped all the way north to Heeney. The Summit County Sheriff's Office says it working with postal inspectors to investigate.

Residents of Summit County's towns occasionally experience headaches getting mail at their local post offices, but in recent weeks people living along Highway 9 in unincorporated areas have reported experiencing a very different problem: a string of mail being stolen from the delivery boxes right in front of their homes.

Last week, residents of a community several miles north of Silverthorne awoke to find more than a dozen of their mailboxes looted.

"It's really sort of appalling to see a row of mailboxes all open and empty with their mouths hanging open like that," said resident Susan Chehak.

Friends and other people Chehak knows along Highway 9 told her they had experienced similar incidents as well in recent weeks. On Thursday, residents as far north as Heeney told CBS 4 their boxes had been looted and that thieves had unsuccessfully tried to use new credit cards at local businesses.

Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said his deputies are currently working with U.S. Postal Service investigators on about a dozen mailbox thefts.

"We have some strong leads and we're working on solving this series of crimes," he said. "They're usually after credit cards, gift cards and things like that. In the past, we've had cases where people don't even know it happened until someone tried to steal their identities."

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While people in rural areas do have the convenience of home delivery, they lose the benefit of a secure box at the post office.

"It's no secret that many unprotected boxes mailboxes are clustered together in rural areas like this where it gets very dark at night, and that can make them more vulnerable," said postal inspector Eric Manuel.

He recommended that victims report mail theft monitor their financial accounts for fraudulent purchases in addition to reporting incidents to both postal inspectors and law enforcement.

Neighbors should also watch for suspicious vehicles and consider getting lockable mailboxes, he said.

"We've talked as a neighborhood about getting a row of (lock boxes)," Chehak said. "But they're very expensive, and they limit what types of packages you can get."

Chehak did find some of her mail on the morning of the theft: a magazine and a catalog, both soggy with snowmelt in the driveway. But she and her husband, Tom, later learned that a check for several thousands dollars made out to them had been delivered that day.

Luckily, they were able to void the check at the bank, where an employee told them that thieves sometimes target mailboxes around tax season hoping to swipe refund checks from the Internal Revenue Service.

"At the bank they told us that what thieves will do is take all the information off a check and use it to create fake ones that they cash it in their names and empty your bank account," Chehak said.

It's unclear whether or not the thieves were after IRS checks. But the agency has been impersonated in recent phone scams targeting locals. On April 25, a Silverthorne resident reported getting a call from a person claiming to be with the IRS who demanded they make immediate back payments or face arrest.

When the resident tried to call back using the number displayed on the caller ID, the Silverthorne Police Department picked up the phone. The scammers, police said, had apparently used a "spoofing" card, a device that allows users to change the number displayed on caller ID.

"What's really alarming there is that it was our phone number shown," police chief John Minor said. "We want to remind everyone that the IRS will never contact a person by phone in regard to back taxes and that municipal police don't work as tax collectors."