By JOHN HOWELL You would imagine the mailboxes in front of the Warwick Post Office on Strawberry Field Road would be a safe place to mail a letter. Joseph DiLorenzo wasn't thinking about safety when he pulled up to the mailbox on Sunday, May 10. He
You would imagine the mailboxes in front of the Warwick Post Office on Strawberry Field Road would be a safe place to mail a letter.
Joseph DiLorenzo wasn’t thinking about safety when he pulled up to the mailbox on Sunday, May 10. He wanted to be sure the card, containing a $100 check, reached his son in time for his birthday. Neither the card nor the check reached the intended recipient.
But the check was cashed, only it wasn’t for $100. It was for $9,800, which went to a Ralph Rolon.
DiLorenzo doesn’t know Ralph Rolon, but he has a good idea his card and the check were “fished” out of the mailbox before the morning pickup by the Postal Service. His son’s name had been erased and the amount change. The writing looks remarkably familiar to the “Happy Birthday” DiLorenzo wrote in the check memo. The signature was his.
Joe’s wife, Paulette, shares the account and keeps a close eye on transactions. She spotted the $9,800 withdrawal on May 13 and knew something was wrong. The DiLorenzos called Citizens Bank and immediately went into action, suspending automatic payments, knowing that they didn’t have the money in their account.
It was an ordeal that took them better than a day to complete. Citizens told them they would be reimbursed for the stolen money, but that would take six to eight weeks. As it turned out, the bank made them whole in five days.
“Citizens Bank was very good to us,” Joe said. The retired Western Hills Middle School principal and school administrator didn’t let the matter drop there. He contacted the Postal Service, Warwick Police and visited the Warwick Post Office, where he planned to talk to the postmaster. That didn’t happen, and he said an assistant didn’t even bother to take a report.
Warwick Detective Joseph Dedonato has heard the story too many times.
“It’s very frustrating,” he said of the legwork that goes into tracking down leads on perpetrators. Even in situations where they have witnesses to people seemingly attempting to fish mail from drop boxes using a sticky substance on a string, they’re not coming up with arrests.
That was the case when a husband and wife called in a suspicious person on Narragansett Parkway. Police tracked the car to a Providence man, but the couple couldn’t identify a suspect from a lineup. In other cases, Dedonato said police have identified suspects, but have not made arrests on the theft of mail. Some have been arrested on outstanding warrants for other crimes. In many instances, the trail of accounts used for depositing or cashing altered checks leads them to people living in Brooklyn or the Bronx. When police finally contact someone they believe could be involved, the person on the line simply hangs up.
Making it difficult for police, the victims of mailbox fishing aren’t complaining.
Indeed, those people whose checks have been altered are reporting the incidents. However, Dedonato estimates in 90 percent of these cases, the banks make their customers whole. The banks or their insurers are then out the money, yet since Dedonato has been investigating the cases – he covers the north end of the city and has followed up on about 30 reports since mail fishing became prevalent in Warwick – “none of the banks have complained.”
Without a victim seeking prosecution, there’s little police can do. Dedonato said he has worked with Postal Inspectors and the state police are aware of the situation. So far, a task force has not been named to address the issue.
Dedonato doesn’t see evidence of organized crime. There may be groups working together to steal the mail and retrieve checks where the name of the intended recipient is bleached out, but Dedonato suspects they are the criminals who once were breaking into homes, only now with much less risk have the chance of making bigger score.
Emily Spera, public information officer for the U.S. Postal Inspector, said in an email that the agency “works with multiple agencies, federal, local, and state on an ongoing basis for all of our investigations.” She said that nationwide in fiscal year 2018, the Postal Inspector made 2,487 arrests for mail theft.
A statement issued by the office of the inspector reads, “The U.S. Mail remains one of the most secure means of transmitting personal information. Every day, the U.S. Postal Service safely and efficiently delivers millions of checks, money orders, credit cards, and merchandise. Unfortunately, such items are also attractive to thieves. That’s why Postal Inspectors across the country are at work to protect our customer’s mail.”
The agency issued the following tips to protect mail from thieves:
l Hand outgoing mail to your letter carrier, or mail it inside at the Post Office, or a secure receptacle at your place of business.
l Never send cash or coins in the mail. Use checks or money orders. Ask your bank for “secure” checks that are more difficult to alter.
l If you see any suspicious substance, such as glue or other sticky product on a mailbox or mail receptacle, please notify Postal Inspectors.
Customers can make reports by submitting an online complaint at uspis.gov or by calling 877-876-2455.
“By analyzing information from the complaint, Postal Inspectors can determine if the problem is part of a larger mail theft problem in the customer’s neighborhood – and their input may help Postal Inspectors locate and apprehend the thieves,” reads the advisory.
The Post Office has installed mailboxes with a narrow opening to thwart thieves, but so far the boxes in front of the Strawberry Field Road office are of the pull down lid variety.
Detective Dedonato said that mail “fished” from boxes not containing checks is often found discarded alongside the highway.