Two people have been arrested in association with recent mail theft in Hastings. A 30-year-old Hastings man, Mark Smith Jr., has been charged with check forgery. A 34-year-old Hastings woman, Jessica Morgan, was also arrested and, as of Friday morning, charges were pending.
"We anticipate additional arrests to be made as the investigation continues," said Matt Hedrick, investigator at the Hastings Police Department.
Reports of mail theft have recently increased in the Hastings area. There were a total of six mail theft reports in 2016, but four of those reports occurred in December alone. January has seen three mail theft reports, but the number of victims could increase. Hedrick said many victims of the crime don't know they are victims. He expects there to be about 25 additional unreported victims in relation to mail theft.
Hedrick said that the perpetrators in the mail theft cases seem to be looking for mailboxes with their flags up and are taking mail before a carrier arrives to pick it up. They sift through the mail to see if they can find any checks. Once they have the checks, Hedrick said they seem to be doing two different things. They wash the check with certain chemicals in order to erase the ink on the check. Then they write in a new recipient name and amount. The other thing they seem to be doing is manufacturing new checks based on the account information.
Mark OBrien, a local resident of Hastings, said he has seen the aftermath of the mail theft crimes both as a bystander and a victim.
OBrien and his wife were driving down Pine Street earlier this month when he noticed something fluttering down the street. They stopped the car and he found the remnants of three pieces of mail. The address on the envelope was still visible so they took the pieces of mail to the indicated address.
"That gentleman had put his mail out literally 15 minutes before I showed up," OBrien said.
OBrien was on alert because he had also had mail taken from his mailbox just a week earlier.
OBrien placed some mail in his mailbox to be picked up by his letter carrier around 10 a.m. The mail included a couple of bill payments. The street he lives on doesn't have through access to anywhere, so he didn't give it much thought, he said. By about 5 p.m., a neighbor of OBrien was out walking his dog when he came across debris from one of the letters. OBrien said the man brought back some of that debris and informed him that some additional mail was frozen to the street about three blocks away.
"(The mail theft) does certainly take away someone's feeling of security and confidence," OBrien said.
OBrien retired from his work as a U.S. Postal Service postman about two years ago. He worked as a postal carrier for 30 years, his coverage area being in the downtown area of Hastings. Being that he worked at the post office, he said he would typically bring his own outgoing mail directly to the post office. He hasn't experienced someone taking his mail from his mailbox before this recent theft.
As a former postal carrier and victim of mail theft, OBrien said he has some suggestions for other residents to protect their mail. He suggested leaving the flag on mailboxes down even when there is outgoing mail. More often than not, a mail carrier will have mail for every address and will see the outgoing mail when they place incoming mail in the mailbox, he said.
Another option would be to take mail directly to the post office, deposit it in one of the mail collection boxes or hand it directly to the mail carrier as they come by. Additional resources for reporting mail theft or for information on how to protect against mail theft, visit https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that both Morgan and Smith had been charged with mail theft. This initial information was obtained from Hastings Police, who have since revised that statement. Neither person has been charged with mail theft. The Star Gazette apologizes for the error.