BILLINGS — On Wednesday, a Billings mother gave credit to her neighbor across the street and the relationship they'd formed weeks after her family moved to town for helping drive mail thieves away from their West End neighborhood.
"I feel like in our neighborhood, the neighbors are kind of watching out of who is driving around and who is stopping and what people look like and know them. So I got lucky," said Robin Mahler, a Billings mom who moved to town in November.
A few weeks back on a Sunday afternoon, Jason Giudice looked out of his window in the Harvest Subdivision and saw two women drive up to Mahler's mailbox. He said the women pulled mail out of the box and started taking photos of the envelopes. Giudice saw the unfamiliar people and went outside to confront them. They spun him a lie about how they used to live at the address, Giudice said.
"I guess the alarming part for me was just how confident and how calm she was and just very serious. And very, very, almost convincing. If I didn't know my neighbors and didn't know my prior neighbors, it might have been a believable story," Giudice said.
During the holiday season, mail thieves are generally looking for cash and gift cards, but Mahler said she considers herself lucky.
"I think it turned out better than it could have, because he was able to get them to put the mail back into the box. They didn't get the mail, because they would have gotten the titles to our cars, which would have been scary," Mahler said.
Even though the thieves got away with photos of the mail, the Mahler family still upgraded their security. They purchased a robust mailbox that can have mail dropped into it but has to be opened with a key. They also purchased identity theft insurance for their bank accounts, just in case.
There are some other things you can do to keep yourself safe from mail theft. Darin Solmon, U.S. Postal Inspection Service inspector in Boise, Idaho, said trying to meet your mail carrier at the box can cut out the opportunity for theft.
"We don't want people to put mail in their mailbox with the red flag up, waiting for the carrier to pick it up in the morning. We want to take the opportunity out of the crime. So we ask people if you can, if you are going to take your raw mail, take it to the post office or take it to a blue collection bin. Somewhere in town. Don't leave it in your mailbox overnight, because that's just not a safe practice," Solmon said.
On a regional level, the postal service hasn't seen an up tick year to year in mail theft reports, but thieves are generally out more when there are lucrative things like Christmas gifts being sent in the post, Solmon said.
Another tip for added security is to make sure your yard is well-lit at night.