Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Postal service no longer leaves mail unattended

Cie Bond had picked out the perfect Christmas gift for her mother-in-law – a book, ordered in the mail.

Days before the 2002 holiday, the present arrived ready to be wrapped at Bond’s Evanston home. There was only one problem: the package was stolen from her porch.

Bond, 43, had four packages stolen that holiday season. That year, she put up a fence and a sign telling deliverers never to leave packages in plain sight again.

Though Bond hasn’t had anything stolen since then, many Evanston residents have had their mail taken recently. The rash of thefts led the Postal Service to start more consistently enforcing its policy of not leaving mail when nobody is home, said Evanston Postmaster Andre Yarbrough.

“There’s been a lot of complaints, more than you can imagine,” he said. “There’s people who trail mailmen and UPS drivers at times for the sole purpose of seeing what’s left behind … So what we’re doing here in Evanston is being careful.”

Instead, residents who are not home when the mail carrier comes will have to go to the post office to pick up their packages, Yarbrough said.

The shift isn’t an official change in a policy that has required United States Postal Service workers for 30 years not to leave packages unattended unless customers give prior permission, but it is a warning to carriers to follow the guidelines, Yarbrough said. The postal workers have some discretion on leaving packages, depending on the neighborhood and whether the delivery is to an apartment or house.

Representatives from UPS and FedEx also said the individual drivers decide whether to leave packages.

An employee from the Chicago bureau of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service said he wasn’t aware of the change in Evanston.

“We’ve had outstanding relationships with both the Evanston Police Department and Northwestern University Police,” Postal Inspector David Colen said. “We come together to combat any local issues.”

Evanston police did not immediately return phone messages asking if they had seen an increase in mail theft citations. No national numbers were available concerning how many of the approximately 213 billion delivered pieces of mail each year are reported taken.

Mail theft is a serious federal offense carrying a possible jail sentence, Colen said. Last year, about 3,600 people were arrested nationwide for the crime. Stolen mail is also commonly linked to identity theft, which can be very financially damaging, Postal Service spokesman Tim Ratliff said. He added that 4 percent of all identify theft is traced to mail.

Most residents said they weren’t aware of the policy change. Some said they would rather the carriers leave their packages and risk theft.

“I don’t like to go after my mail,” said Patrice Merchant, 53. “I like my mail to come to me.”

Having to go to the post office could be problematic for the elderly, the sick and residents with kids or without a car, 53-year-old Barbara McKinley said.

But McKinley, who has lived in Evanston her whole life, added that “quite a few” of her friends have had packages and checks stolen from their mailboxes.

“That’s what kills me,” she said. “The (criminals) cashing the checks that are not even theirs.”

Customers can do several things to help keep their mail safe, Colen said, including having checks delivered to the bank, having the post office keep mail when on vacation and taking mail inside as soon as it arrives.

One resident said the whole issue is a case of being overly careful.

“Whatever is stolen can be replaced,” said Wolfe Charny, 58. “At some point, we have to live our lives without worrying what’s going to happen.”

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Postal service no longer leaves mail unattended