FREMONT, Calif. (KGO) -- Mail theft is on the rise in the City of Fremont with 19 such thefts reported already in the month of July - a drastic increase from last year.
With more residents staying at home, ordering online instead of shopping in person, and stimulus checks shuffling through the postal service, thieves have more of an incentive than ever before to steal our mail before we ever see it.
In the first three weeks of July, 19 instances of mail theft have been reported to Fremont Police.
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That number is considerably higher than July 2019 when just six incidents of mail theft were reported, according to Fremont PD Senior Fraud Detective Amy Boyd.
The thieves are after everything from stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, tax refunds, and medication orders, but that's not all.
"It could be anything of value. It could be credit cards, bank information, or checks," said U.S. Postal Service Inspector Jeff Fitch.
Fitch stressed any mail with your personal information on it is a high target for thieves.
In Fremont, the thieves appear to be getting even more bold.
An e-mail obtained by ABC7 News confirms the same building of a 300-unit apartment complex in the city was hit twice in just three days.
So how are they doing it?
"They might be having some type of tool - a burglary tool," Fitch said. "Using that is another crime."
In rare cases the postal inspector said thieves are able to forge a counterfeit version of the key postal workers carry to deposit mail in the wall of mailboxes you'll often see in an apartment complex.
Roughly half of the mail thefts occurring in July in Fremont targeted large complexes while the other half victimized homeowners, according to Boyd.
Mail theft is a federal offense and carries a fine of up to $250,000 and a penalty of up to five years in prison.
Mail theft can be a huge hassle for the victim who has personal information stolen, or even worse identity fraud.
"They can use your information to make fake identity papers and go out and commit crimes under your name," Boyd said. "And if they get caught and they get arrested under your name then you have a warrant out and you're just a hardworking person."
If you believe your mail is missing one of the most important things you can do is report it to police and then the USPS.
Police agencies share information with the postal service to try and track down the criminals behind these crimes and to stop it from reoccurring.
Report stolen mail by calling the USPS hotline at 877-876-2455. The hotline is active 24/7.
You can also report stolen mail online here.
There is a $10,000 standing reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction.
However, the best piece of advice to protect yourself is to check your mail regularly.
Don't leave it in your mailbox overnight, Fitch said.
Fremont Police also advises those living in a home with an unsecured, unlocked mailbox to invest in getting a locked box instead.
You are also encouraged to drop outgoing mail off at your local post office or one of the blue, locked mailboxes located throughout your community.
Placing an important piece of outgoing mail in your mailbox with the red flag up isn't only a signal to your postal carrier, but to the criminals too.
If you are the victim of mail theft police encourage you to check your credit reports and billing statements closely for several weeks - even months after the event.
Any information about charges you did not make should also be relayed to the postal inspectors and police as that information may help them narrow down a suspect.