TOPEKA, Kansas (WIBW) -- When you are sending an item in the mail, the custom has been to raise the red flag on your mailbox to alert the letter carrier. This habit, however, is causing more Shawnee County residents to become victims of mail theft.
"If it happens once, you don't forget it, that's for sure because it can really mess your lifestyle up for a little while."
Mail thieves made life hectic for one homeowner, who did not want to give out his identity.
He's not alone. Mail has disappeared out of numerous mailboxes in a North Topeka neighborhood around 35th and Huxman.
"They were taking the envelopes out and putting them in the next mailbox and taking out what was in the envelopes. They were after checks, credit cards. If they were bill they weren't even opened," the homeowner said. "It was a mess for me because I do run a business and people do send me checks."
The Shawnee County Sheriff's Office said they have seen a significant increase in mail theft reports around the county. They say thieves target the mailboxes that have raised red flags.
The homeowner 13 News talked to said he believes the thieves that stole from his mailbox followed the mailman.
"I think what they did, they were within a quarter to half-mile of the mail carrier and just following him, because I know my mail always came right on time between 1:00 and 1:30 p.m. and I went to get my mail quarter 'till two and I already had other people's stuff in my mailbox.
Undersheriff Terry Maple said they look for obvious things.
"They're looking for checks, they're looking for cash, they're looking for any opportunity," he said. "Now, if they steal a check they can simply take a photo and get a routing number and the barcode of your checks. They're very adept at creating false documents with that information."
The homeowner said he thinks he's safe now.
"I went ahead and got a lock box and I didn't even feel comfortable with that, so I went and got a P.O. box," he said.
Several other homes along the street have done the same. Another residence about three houses down was hit too. The thief stole the woman's identity. Now the home has a lock box.
The Sheriff's office reminds you to know wha ttime the mailman comes, pick up your mail promptly, never send cash in the mail, be wary of checks and send important documents or items at the post office or official drop box.
"We like to see neighbors talking to neighbors," Maple said. "That way you know each other, you know who's supposed to be at somebody's house an dwhen they're supposed to be there. When you're going to be gone, let your neighbors know. It's a great way to help reduce crime and prevent crime. If a neighbor sees something, feel free to call our Dispatch Center and we'll send deputies up to check it out."
If you feel you are a victim of mail theft, immediately call the Sheriff's Office at 785-251-2200. The sooner the call, the better, because waiting too long makes it harder for law enforcement to fix the problem.