Adam Lysiak, 38, is accused of stealing the mail to create fake identities, forge identification cards, pass bad checks and use stolen credit cards.
The case of a Washington man arrested Tuesday on suspicion of stealing more than 1,000 pounds of mail once again puts the national spotlight on mail theft and what can be done to prevent it.
The case may be handed over to federal authorities for investigation and prosecution, Port Townsend, Wash., police said Thursday.
Adam Lysiak, 38, is accused of stealing mail from residents in Port Townsend and Jefferson, Kitsap and Pierce counties to create fake identities, forge identification cards, pass bad checks and use stolen credit cards, Port Townsend Police Department spokesperson Officer Luke Bogues told MSN News.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the federal agency in charge of investigating mail theft, described Lysiak's case as "unique," given the amount of mail involved.
Port Townsend Police Department
About two dozen bags of mail were removed from Lysiak's apartment, Bogues said. Valuable information such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers and social security information were stored in two safes that were also seized from the apartment, he said.
Bogues said the case was one of the largest — if not the largest — mail and identity theft cases in city history.
"We currently have a federal investigator from the Postal Inspection Service helping us with the case," he said. "We still haven't taken out all the mail from the bags. It looks like Lysiak did not throw away any of the stolen mail."
Lysiak is currently being held on a $250,000 bail and is scheduled to appear in Jefferson County Superior Court Friday, Bogues said.
The U.S. Postal Service handles 668 million pieces of mail every day.
"The vast majority of it arrives intact, but sometimes thieves get to some of it before delivery," said U.S. Postal Inspection Service spokesperson David Schroader.
Schroader told MSN News that mail theft as a whole is not widespread, since people don't usually get a lot of monetary value out of it.
"There is of course the potential for identity theft, but thieves usually recover insignificant amounts of cash or checks from the mail," he said.
In 2012, federal authorities arrested 2,505 suspects for mail theft, down from 2,776 suspects in 2010.
"Even with today's rapidly evolving technology, the mail is still one of the safest ways to transmit personal information," Schroader said.
Mail thefts are generally conducted by organized groups, in which the theft of mail is just a small part of the criminal operation.
Theft or possession of stolen mail is a very serious offense, punishable by up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
Courtesy: Jefferson County Sheriff's Office
Schroader said the U.S. Postal Inspection Service puts equal importance on every case it investigates. "It could be getting your identity stolen or any kind of personal information in your Christmas card that might be at risk," he said.
Bogues said more than half of the mail recovered had Kitsap County addresses.
"[Lysiak] was going out from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. every night to steal mail," he said.
Lysiak was previously convicted for identity theft, possession of stolen property and possession of fraudulent bank checks, Bogues said.
The most common victims of mail theft are the ones who leave their mail unchecked for a long time, Schroader said.
Here are some of the things you can do to protect your mail from thieves:
- Never send cash or coins in the mail. Use checks or money orders.
- Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after delivery, especially if you're expecting checks, credit cards or other negotiable items. If you won't be home when the items are expected, ask a trusted friend or neighbor to pick up your mail.
- Have your local post office hold your mail while you're on vacation or absent from your home for a long period of time.
- If you don't receive a check or other valuable mail you're expecting, contact the issuing agency immediately.
- If you change your address, immediately notify your post office and anyone with whom you do business via the mail.
- Always deposit your mail in a mail slot at your local post office, or hand it to your letter carrier.
- Consider starting a neighborhood watch program. By exchanging work and vacation schedules with trusted friends and neighbors, you can watch each other's mailboxes (as well as homes). If you observe a mail thief at work, call the local police immediately, and then call the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455.