By Steven Goodstein
Fishing has rules and regulations. Mailbox fishing is illegal.
After previous waves of mailbox fishing occurred in other boroughs, the crime has become an ongoing issue within the confines of the 111th Precinct, in Bayside dating back to the beginning of the year.
Classified as grand larceny, mailbox fishing involves a perpetrator stealing mail from a blue USPS mailbox by either using a contraption (usually a water bottle and mouse traps or glue) or simply opening the box.
Once the perpetrator obtains the envelope, he or she alters the amount of money on the check by washing it in acetone and rewriting the dollar amount, then cashing the check at the bank.
“People are mailing checks in part because they don’t deposit checks at banks as much anymore,” said Sgt. Joseph Saviano of the 111th Precinct, who also discussed the ongoing issue at the 111th Precinct Community Council meeting June 26 at the Colonial Church of Bayside. “This has been an issue in Manhattan, the Bronx, Long Island City – and the problem is continuing to move further east. Once we handle this issue, it will pop up again in the Long Island counties.”
Saviano cited an example just last week, when a Bayside resident reported a check that was cashed for $18,000 after it originally read $1,000 and the check was washed with acetone.
These incidents usually take place at nighttime, right after the last mail pick-up for that day.
Some of the targeted mailbox addresses within the 111th Precinct confines include 61-43 Springfield Blvd., 250-10 Northern Blvd., 212-35 42nd Ave., as well as 73rd Ave. and Bell Boulevard, which were each hit three times in a 28-day survey period.
In total, the mailbox at 212-35 42nd Ave. has been hit a total of eight times since February.
Trends based on charts provided by the 111th Precinct, also reveal that many of these instances usually occur on Tuesdays and Sundaysand are more than twice as likely to occur during the first two weeks of the month.
In the past few years, mailbox fishing had been a continuing problem in Manhattan and the Bronx. The issue has since been resolved after all the mailboxes in both boroughs were retrofitted.
According to the Police Department, once locks on mailboxes have been replaced, complaints decrease and the criminal activity shifts to other areas.
The NYPD suggests that anybody who is mailing checks to write them with high-quality, pigmented permanent ink pens, such as a Uni-ball, to make it difficult for perpetrators to wash away the ink on the check.
The 111th Precinct has been working and sharing information with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to combat these crimes, It is not an easy task with 206 mailboxes in the confines of the 111th Precinct.
“For those who are concerned about mailbox security in their neighborhood, we encourage them to place mail in a collection box in another area, use secure receptacles, deposit their mail at a post office or hand your mail to a uniformed mail carrier,” said Donna Harris, spokeswoman for the USPIS’s New York division. “We will continue to meet with the NYPD, share information with them and come up with solutions to deter the perpetrators from engaging this activity.”
Harris also suggested that residents should check the pick-up schedule posted on the mailbox so they can be assured that their mail will not sit in the box overnight or over the weekend.
The 111th Precinct has been well prepared, however, conducting surveillance operations with plainclothes officers and regular directed patrols with marked cars. It also created a “key-catcher” contraption to either trap or breaks the key of the perpetrator, which the NYPD uses to collect DNA and other evidence.
The police also advise residents to drop mail directly inside the post office instead of dropping it into the mailbox to avoid becoming a victim of mailbox fishing. Anyone who sees evidence of anybody tampering with a USPS mailbox should call 9-1-1.
The NYPD has not yet given a timetable about when all the mailboxes in Queens will be retrofitted with new keys, as they are in Manhattan and the Bronx.
On June 27, the 111th Precinct said it arrested 50-year-old Forest Hills resident Frank Akinnuoye for allegedly stealing mail from personal mailboxes, within the vicinity of 42nd Avenue and 214th Place.
Reach Steven Goodstein by e-mail at sgood