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Mail theft, damage cause concern during tax season

US Postal Service investigating rash of local incidents
By: Andrew Westrope, Staff Writer
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Many people find filing their taxes complicated enough, but several Auburn-area residents have had to contend with the additional problem of making sure the Internal Revenue Service receives them at all.

Auburn resident Sara Konst mailed her tax documents to an accountant in Lake of the Pines on April 1. Concerned when she found he had not received them by April 9, she spoke with a local post office delivery supervisor who told her there had been 63 mail break-ins recently, only two of which have been solved, and that the mail sorting machines occasionally shred mail. Konst said she was told, “It’ll get there eventually,” and that turned out to be true. Her tax documents reached their destination on Wednesday, but it was little consolation.

“My tax accountant did receive the information, but the envelope looked like it had serious damage, and it had been opened and retaped, so I don’t know yet whether that was an individual doing that or if it maybe got caught in the sorter at the post office,” she said. “One of two things happened: it got caught in the machine, or it was identity theft. It still could be identity theft. I don’t know yet until they look at the envelope and tell me that.”

Though he had not spoken with Konst, Auburn Post Office Supervisor Michael Smith confirmed that the past two months had seen a rash of incidents involving thefts from metal mailboxes, mostly the kind arrayed together in subdivisions. He said someone has been prying open the back of the mailboxes with crow bars and taking mail out of everyone’s box in that unit.

“It really is all over. It’s not just happening in Auburn. It’s been in Colfax, a little bit down the hill, too. It’s been all over the place,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this, what’s been happening in the last couple months. This is just unparalleled.”

Smith would not comment on how frequently mail is damaged by sorting machines or whether the sorting machines do that because they need to be repaired or replaced, but he said the U.S. Postal Service’s Office of Inspection Service has been investigating the break-ins.

“Postal inspectors have been involved in trying to track down who’s doing this,” he said. “I’ve seen a couple come into the area and even give stand-up talks to some of the employees about just keeping their eyes open and trying to figure out what’s going on. I’ve seen an escalated effort on their part.”

The Office of Inspection Service did not respond to calls on Thursday.

The incident left Konst with questions about the postal service’s security and reliability.

“My main concern is the safety, that they improve the safety of it,” she said. “And if it did get caught in the shredder, why did it take them 10 days to notify somebody? … It was right in Sacramento. And the fact that they know that it shreds mail, you would think they would upgrade their equipment or something. As a customer or a client of the post office, that would be the main thing. If their machine catches stuff, why does it take 10 days to get it back?”