Community Mailboxes Raise Identity Theft Concerns

9 April 2015

Last year, Canada Post began making the transition from door-to-door mail service to community mailboxes, but it has not been a smooth road. There have been several cases of people being able to open their neighbours’ mailboxes with their keys but not being able to open their own, and theft from the new nominally secure “superboxes” has been rampant. Not only are these problems inconvenient, mail theft also exposes its victims to identity theft if the criminals are able to intercept documents containing sensitive information.

This week, a suburban Halifax couple found they couldn’t open their mailbox with their key, then, shockingly, found that they could open their neighbours’ mailbox after trying some of the other locks. Will LeRoy thought the lock was just frozen when his key wouldn’t open his mailbox. However, after putting de-icer in the lock and making a second attempt, it became clear that the lock wasn’t going to open. On a hunch, LeRoy decided to try the key in some of the surrounding mailboxes, and was startled when one of them opened. He immediately went to his neighbour’s house to alert him to what was going on.

“I was thinking, ‘Where is the security of the mail? There’s absolutely no security,'” LeRoy told the CBC. “I was stunned at first, but then I thought maybe it’s my mail, but it wasn’t, of course — it was my neighbour’s mail. I’m sure my neighbour was feeling uneasy as well when I told him I had access to his mail because his mouth dropped open. He was sort of stunned by that.”

This was not the first incident of a key mix-up with the new mailboxes: A woman in Bedford, Nova Scotia, discovered last fall that her key could open her neighbour’s mailbox just like LeRoy’s could. However, not everyone gaining access to other people’s mail through the community mailboxes is a friendly neighbour with good intentions.

In Surrey, B.C., community mailbox break-ins have become commonplace, according to a recent CTV News report. Resident Julie Parker told reporters that her neighbourhood’s mailbox had been broken into three times since last autumn. The thieves have apparently figured out how to get through the supposedly prohibitive security of the “superboxes” with little trouble, leaving residents fearing that they have no control over the personal information that might come to them in the mail.

Canadian Union of Postal Workers representative Tim Armstrong said that mailbox theft has become “an epidemic” in B.C. and the Lower Mainland area. He predicts that the break-ins will not stop anytime soon, even though Canada Post says it is working closely with local police departments to put a stop to the break-ins.

“We think it will continue and it will get worse. Thieves are ingenious,” Armstrong told CTV News.

Meanwhile, Will and Dorothy LeRoy still can’t access any of their mail. The neighbour’s lock has been changed, but theirs still has not. Will LeRoy is worried about financial and medical documents that he receives in the mail, concerned that they could be used to steal his identity. He told the CBC that he doesn’t “think anybody should feel secure” about the new mailbox arrangement, given that so many security incidents have been reported already.

If you’re concerned about keeping track of your finances in the event of identity theft, signing up for a credit monitoring service can be a good start. This will alert you to certain types of possibly fraudulent activity on your accounts.