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US Postal Service cautions Northeast Ohio residents to only use blue mailboxes during business hours

Thieves in Northeast Ohio have been stealing mail from the blue USPS mailboxes, and may have access to boxes across the region. [Ron Adar / Shutterstock]
Three blue USPS mailboxes on a sidewalk

Updated: 11:10 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022

The US Postal Service is recommending residents across Northeast Ohio only place mail in the blue mailboxes in public places during regular business hours. 

The warning comes after a rash of mail thefts in suburban communities. 

Several arrests have been made and a federal investigation is ongoing, according to Postal Inspection Service Inspector Ian Ortega. 

The thefts appear to have started close to two months ago.

Lakewood resident Sara Jane Salstrom said checks were stolen that she dropped off in a blue mailbox outside the Lakewood Post Office Dec. 1 and Dec. 3.

Both were altered and cashed. The first one, a check for $4,600 to a painting company, was altered and made out to “Bobby Miller” and deposited online at Citizens Bank on Dec. 2.

The name on the other check, a credit card payment of $3,353, was changed to “Daylan Lanier” and deposited online with Key Bank.

“They were so obviously altered, they just used the white-out paint and the handwriting was very different,” Salstrom said.

She heard eventually from the companies about her missing payments. Fraud insurance covered her loss, and she was able to pay her bills with savings.

“I guess in a way I feel fortunate that I had the money to go ahead and pay these bills, take money out of savings and do it,” Salstrom said. “What about people who don’t have that?”

After Salstrom filed a police report, Lakewood police told her there were nine other people who had reported similar crimes.

“I’m disappointed in Lakewood. I never heard anybody talking about this in Lakewood,” Salstrom. “If you live in Northeast Ohio, there should have been a warning going out.”

Cleveland City Councilman Mike Polensek recently told residents to go inside post offices to drop off their mail. His alert — weeks after Salstrom’s ordeal — warned that free-standing mailboxes, including those directly outside post offices, have been compromised.

“The blue boxes, they supposedly have a master key to get into the blue boxes,” Polensek said.

The postal service would not comment on how the keys were acquired or how many boxes can be accessed by a single key.

Ortega said a postal service employee was robbed in Euclid Saturday. The worker was not harmed.

“The Inspection Service cannot yet opine on whether this incident is isolated or linked to the string of recent blue box thefts,” he said.

Polensek said he’s heard of thefts in Lyndhurst, Richmond Heights and South Euclid. The Postal Service would not comment on how far reaching the thefts have been.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.