By Bianca Rosembert
United States Postal Service mailboxes all over South Jamaica have been redesigned to fight incidents of mailbox fishing that have been plaguing Queens residents since 2016.
The new blue mailboxes feature thin slots that are designed to prevent perpetrators from tampering with letters.
Hollis and Rochdale Village are the first neighborhoods to receive either upgrades to current mailboxes or completely new mailboxes, according to Clifton Stanley Diaz, Rochdale Village’s chairman of the board of directors.
If the mailbox is in good condition, the Postal Service just changes the slot. If it’s an old mailbox, it is replaced, according to Donna Harris, a spokeswoman for the USPS. The Postal Service eventually plans to replace all the mail slots in New York City mailboxes.
Mailbox fishing involves pulling out envelopes containing personal checks and sensitive information through the slot of a blue USPS mailbox using a string tied to a sticky substance, usually glue, a bottle or mouse traps.
Mail fishers commonly “wash” the stolen checks by erasing the receiver’s name from the check using a solution, according to officials from the 113th Precinct.
“If you’re work working hard for your money and somebody just takes it, it’s terrifying. It’s heart-breaking,” said Rochdale Village resident Bernide Choute, 27. “It makes you not even want to mail your stuff. It makes you just want to go to the place and drop it off if you can.”
Police were investigating a recent string of possible fishing incidents, including one on Nov. 2, when a $300 check was dropped off at a USPS mailbox on 234th Street & Seward Avenue and later cashed for $938, according to officials at the 113th precinct.
There were 21 other mailbox fishing incidents reported to the 113th Precinct in 2018.
Of the 21 incidents, three involved grand larceny of checks over $1,000 and six were classified as forgery of checks less than $1,000, according to authorities.
Police arrested a suspect in South Jamaica who was carrying 30 to 40 checks on Sept. 21 and also caught one perpetrator mid-fishing in October, according to the officials from the 113th Precinct.
The police investigation into the sticky trail of stolen checks has led them to check cashing locations in the Bronx and New Jersey, according to authorities.
The Rochdale Village post office now leaves a notice, “Put letters in here,” to show residents how to use new slot.
The costs to upgrade the boxes vary based on the condition of the boxes, according to Xavier Hernandez, a strategic communications specialist for the USPS.
“The goal is to have security in all of these boxes throughout New York City. There’s no specific timeline for that and it is on a need-by-need basis,” said Hernandez.
The Postal Service is also working with law enforcement to track the most targeted mailboxes for mailbox fishing, according to Hernandez.
South Jamaica residents are encouraged to use the mailbox slot in their local post office until all the mailbox slots have been replaced.