Authorities search for Hartselle mail bandit
Cindy Winton said her recent experience as the victim of a mail fraud scheme has been a “nightmare.”
Winton’s mail, including personal information and checks, was stolen from the collection box on Stewart Street earlier this month. The case is under investigation by the U.S. Postal Service.
“I am Mrs. Routine, so I knew something was up when more than one check didn’t clear,” Winton said. “I am just now getting checks in the mail again. I’m probably not the only one.”
Winton said she was forced to close her bank accounts and cancel her ATM card once she realized her private information had been compromised. Now she is waiting to see whether justice will be brought to the person or people who stole from her.
“I just want them to catch the person, and I want the public to realize that if their checks have not cleared or if they sent a card to someone – those things might not ever get to where they were mailed,” she said.
Authorities said the Hartselle box, as well as one in Decatur, was recently tampered with.
Tony Robinson, an investigator with the U.S. Postal Service, said mail fraud like the crime committed in Hartselle happens regularly.
Robinson, who is based in Birmingham, travels the state to speak about the dangers of mail fraud and identity theft. He said there are common sense precautions people can take to protect themselves against these types of crimes.
Robinson said the operation goes like this: criminals pay people, often people who are homeless, to burglarize mailboxes either at post office locations or in front of home. Those people, referred to by authorities as runners or mules, make a few hundred dollars to give their employers access to potentially thousands of dollars or hundreds of identities.
Robinson said there is no way for the local post office to know what was in the burglarized box, and anyone who used it close to the time it was hit is at risk.
Winton said the experience has opened her eyes to how at risk her personal information is. “I’ve changed my routine. I no longer use the collection boxes like I did, and I definitely will not put outgoing mail in my home mailbox,” she said.
Robinson said a standard poster inside every post office offers up to a $10,000 reward for information that would lead to an arrest and conviction of anyone involved in a mail fraud case.
He added suspicious activity should first be reported to the local police, and complaints can be filed with the local post office and the Federal Trade Commission online at www.ftc.gov.