Warning about thieves targeting public mailboxes

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5 arrested for stealing from mailboxes in Mayfair. John Rawlins reports during Action News at 4pm on October 14, 2017. (WPVI)

Police arrested five people for stealing right out of mailboxes in a Philadelphia neighborhood.

The crime was caught on surveillance video exclusively obtained by Action News.

It happened along the 7100 block of Frankford Avenue in Mayfair on Tuesday.

At first, they stroll by looking like utility workers in reflective vests. They return, and one approaches the mailbox.

He drops a line inside and begins pulling, and in seconds pulls out mail. He quickly hands it off and the crew then just drifts away.

Justin Linn watched it play out in real-time on his newly installed surveillance gear.

"Shortly after I saw them go over to the mailbox and start pulling letters out," Linn said. "I knew exactly what they were doing and called 911."

The crew from New York was soon arrested

This type of mail theft is called fishing.

It's been going on in New York and Florida for years. A postal inspector from Miami showed off typical fishing gear, which includes a line, a weight, and a ball of sticky tape.

He said, "They will drop it into the collection box with the goal of having the mail stick to the tape, and then they can pull it back out and now they have your outgoing mail."

So, why would an organized ring of thieves target a mailbox in Mayfair? One theory is its proximity to a check cashing store.

Britney Mendez is glad there were arrests

"Glad, yes. We have a lot of elderly people that come into our store, and they trust us with their bill payments. We do a lot of things electronic, but a lot of them will get money orders to pay their bills and put it right in the mailbox on the corner," she said.

Another reason New Yorkers might come here is that postal authorities in New York have modified mailboxes, making it harder to fish. The suspects may have been looking for easier pickings.

The suspects will face federal charges.

In New York, there have been more than 50 arrests since 2015 involving some $750,000 in checks and money orders.

Authorities recommend that if you are going to use a public mailbox, be sure to use one in a well-lit area. They also say you should avoid putting your mail in after the last pick-up time, because your mail will then sit overnight, which is when fishing is most likely to happen.

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