Residents of a Sherman Oaks neighborhood were warned to protect their mail after several thefts from mailboxes were reported there during the past week.
The thefts reportedly occurred in the neighborhood known as Vista Oaks, north of the 101 Freeway.
"In one case, on Tobias Avenue, a person received a birthday card in the mail but the envelope had been steamed open and a $200 check was taken," said Kristin Sales, who is the Neighborhood Watch captain for the area.
Another incident occurred on Willis Avenue.
"This time a person had written a check to the gas company and hung the letter on his mailbox on Sunday night. The next day one of his neighbors found the envelope had been torn open and the check was gone," Sales said.
What could a thief do with a check made out to the gas company?
Sales said check washing can occur, to remove the payee's name. "They might use rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover with acetone to remove the ink," she said.
During income-tax season, mail thefts become more prevalent. So far, no thefts of tax-refund checks have been reported in the Valley Oaks area.
The Internal Revenue Service has issued a tax tip that tells people that "direct deposit is the fastest, safest way to receive your tax refund."
Here is a link to the IRS Web site that gives details on the benefits of having your tax-refund checks deposited directly into your bank account: irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=105957,00.html.
The United States Postal Service has issued these guidelines for protecting mail:
1. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after delivery, especially if you are expecting checks or credit cards.
2. If you don't receive a check you are expecting, contact the issuing agency immediately.
3. Always deposit your mail in the mail slot at your local post office, or hand it to your letter carrier.
4. Never send cash or coins in the mail; use checks or money orders instead.
5. If you change your address, immediately notify your post office and anyone with whom you do business.
"It's unclear if these mail thefts are the beginning of a trend," Sales said. "But if you believe you have been the victim of mail theft, please inform your block captain and file a report with the postal police or postal inspectors online." That link is postalinspectors.uspis.gov/contactUs/filecomplaint.aspx.