Duct tape, water bottles, fishing line and wire hangers may sound like the stuff for a child’s craft project.
But law enforcement officials say these simple household items are being used to steal mail — and people’s money.
“It is literally like fishing,” said Antonio Gomez, the Inspector in Charge at the United States Postal Inspection Service, at a press conference Thursday announcing the arrests of nine people in Operation Hook, Line and Sinker. “They are taking these devices, placing them in collection boxes and literally fishing the outbound mail from collection boxes.”
Thursday’s arrests stem from a string of mail thefts in Coral Springs beginning on Christmas Eve, 2015. Coral Springs Det. Gene Cashier said the first victim reported the theft in January 2016. As police investigated, 11 more victims in Coral Springs came forward. In total, the victims were defrauded of about $14,000.
“We have been working continuously on this,” he said.
A collaboration among the Florida Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Postal Inspector Service and Miami-Dade and Coral Springs police departments led them to 10 individuals — one of whom has not been arrested, officials said Thursday.
The nine people in custody, who are facing charges ranging from organized scheme to defraud, grand theft and identity theft are: Angel Luis Arcila Berovides, 19; Dayan Moreira Clemente, 21; Liubert Cordero, 27; Mario Jorge Marrero-Corvo, 21; Rosalia Llompart Garcia, 21; Lorena Gonzalez, 19; Geysi Hernandez Mendoza, 37; Enlys Cosme Palacios, 22; and Frank Rojas, 27.
Police are still looking for Alexander Reyes.
Gomez said the group swiped the mail out of the blue U.S. Postal Service mailboxes — usually during the night or weekends — would look for checks and chemically erase the checks’ payee and amount. They would enter a new, higher amount, make the check payable to one of them, and deposit the altered check into different accounts, investigators said.
In one case, a woman sent a check to Broward Health for $31.58 and mailed it at a blue collection box at a Coral Springs post office on April 17, 2016. The check was changed to $825 and fraudulently cashed at a TD Bank, according to arrest reports. In another case, a check written to the Florida Department of Agriculture for $100 was changed into an $1,800 check.
Using different contraptions to steal mail is not new, Gomez said. In fact, Gomez said more arrests for similar crimes are pending.
“This is about as archaic as it can get.”
▪ Avoid mailing checks at nights or weekends, and avoid overflowing mailboxes.
▪ Give your mail to your carrier or take it to the post office.
▪ Look for sticky residue or devices on mailboxes.
▪ To report suspicious activity, call 877-876-2455.