SAN ANTONIO – The regular trip to her grandchildren’s bus stop Thursday morning was anything but routine for Claire Compton. She stumbled upon a mailbox full of trouble in the Hunter’s Mill subdivision.
"We saw the mail on the ground, and, of course, the doors were all open,” Compton said, recalling the moment when she realized thieves had struck overnight.
Based on the visible damage, it appeared someone had used a tool, such as a crowbar, and pried open most of the doors on a central neighborhood mailbox station. It’s located on Mooncrest Drive near Mill Meadow Drive.
“Mine is on the section that didn't get opened,” she said. "They must've jimmied the lock."
After the break-in, Compton tried unsuccessfully to open her mailbox using two different keys, but the lock wouldn’t budge. After noticing her neighbors’ boxes had been ripped open, she called San Antonio police.
Officer Douglas Greene, a public information officer for the San Antonio Police Department, said that mail theft is a case for the U.S. Postal Service. In an interview with KSAT 12 News in late September, Postal Inspector Michael Martinez said this type of crime is happening locally at a rate of 10-15 cases per week.
Greene said his department handles what often comes next — identity theft.
“Usually, what happens is that individuals are stealing mail in order to steal credit cards, steal the identifications of the owners of that mail," Greene said. "It is a, kind of, difficult theft to prevent."
Greene said SAPD’s white-collar crimes division sees these types of criminals working individually and as part of a group. Many times, he said, investigators will discover the evidence and identity theft cases first, then realize they’re tied to mail thefts.
“We find several identification cards, forged checks, credit cards,” Greene said.
In March, police arrested Michael Davis, 30, after a theft at a Walgreen’s store on Huebner and Vance Jackson roads. An arrest warrant affidavit related to that crime stated that upon searching, officers also found he was in possession of a phony sheriff’s badge and identification card, as well as stolen credit cards that had been taken from a mailbox.
Two months later, police arrested Turk Lemes, 34, who they said was spotted trying to steal mail from a man’s mailbox. When police tracked him down at an East side motel later, they said they found a room full of stolen mail.
They said they believe he was working with a woman, later identified as Adina De La Cruz, 32. Both were arrested on charges related to fraud.
Compton, meanwhile, said she already had taken steps to avoid the risk.
“I do a lot of my bills electronically, so I don't have to worry about this,” she said.
Police said that while there may not be a sure fire way to prevent mail theft, installing surveillance cameras can be a big help, especially when it comes to investigating the crime.
They also recommend checking your mailbox regularly and keeping a close eye on all bank and credit card accounts for signs of ID theft.