Postal inspector probes theft of birthday money

Someone's snatching money from mailed cards

The U.S. Postal Service's Office of the Inspector General is investigating a series of thefts of money from mailed birthday cards that some victims believe may be an inside job.

The thefts have gone on for at least several months and are characterized by a tear in the envelope that is big enough for the thief's fingers to slip into and pull cash out of, while leaving the envelope intact.

Residents began airing their concerns in late June on the social media platform Nextdoor, but the problem was brought to the attention of the Palo Alto Post Office some months before by more than one victim, they stated online.

It is rare for postal employees to steal mail, but it does happen, said Janet Roberson, assistant special agent in charge from the Inspector General's office.

"At any given time, several mail-theft investigations are underway," she said, adding that current cases involve the Palo Alto area.

Roberson said that investigations continue until someone is indicted.

Cards that Palo Alto resident Karen Nierenberg sent in February were tampered with, she said. She sent the envelopes from her mailbox.

"I was quite stunned when my granddaughters in San Carlos and in Sunnyvale each received my valentines in the mail, but they had been ripped open. (I put) only stickers inside, not money, so the last laugh is on whoever opened them. But who does that?

"About a year ago, I sent dollar bills (foolish me) in a birthday card to my grandniece. I never got a thank you and was disappointed by that. Now it occurs to me that she never received it!" she said in an email.

A Charleston Gardens neighborhood resident wrote on Nextdoor that her son received two birthday cards mailed from two different states, both without the money that had been enclosed. The family's mail arrives to a locked box, prompting concern that a postal employee might have taken the money rather than a random thief.

The problem also appears to be occurring beyond Palo Alto. Other residents have reported on Nextdoor that birthday cards have been delivered minus money in Menlo Park and Mountain View.

Last year the Office of the Inspector General's mail-theft investigations resulted in 541 convictions, 1,220 administrative actions such as firings and $31.1 million in fines, restitution and recoveries, Roberson said.

"Given the size of the workforce -- more than 488,000 employees -- the integrity of postal employees is remarkable when you consider only 541 convictions occurred last year. We are continuously striving to reduce thefts. Many of the internal losses, which occur in the distribution chain before delivery, involve theft by airline ramp clerks, private delivery drivers, mailroom clerks working for banks, postal employees and postal contractors," she said.

Theft or possession of stolen mail is a very serious offense, she added. Mail theft is punishable by up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000. Thefts by postal employees or officers carry the same penalties. In addition, there are statutes for obstruction, willful delay of mail and destruction of mail. Employees convicted of theft stand to lose their jobs, according to the Inspector General's office.

Information concerning postal crimes comes to the Inspector General's office through various sources. Special agents receive complaints and tips from customers and postal employees. They identify criminal activities in the early stages by analyzing mail flow and comparing employee work schedules and access to the mail, as well as by using emerging technology to determine where thefts are occurring in the mail stream.

The Postal Service has also strengthened its procedures for hiring new employees to include extensive background checks, fingerprinting, employment references and drug tests, the Inspector General's office noted in a fact sheet.

People can "absolutely" trust their mail carriers, the agency added. The majority of postal employees adhere to the tradition of protecting the "sanctity of the seal" of first-class mail.

Anyone who suspects their mail has been stolen or tampered with can contact the Office of the Inspector General hotline at 1-888-USPS-OIG (1-888-877-7644).

How to prevent mail theft

The U.S. Inspector General's Office recommends the following tips for avoiding mail theft:

1. Never send cash or coins in the mail. Use checks or money orders.

2. Safeguard financial information, especially Social Security numbers, account numbers and statements. Be careful when disposing of used credit-card receipts and pre-approved credit card solicitations.

3. Retrieve mail as soon as possible after delivery.

4. Make sure the lock on your mailbox works. Apartment boxes should be maintained by the property owner.

5. If you are expecting a check or credit card or package but are unable to be home for the delivery, have a trusted friend get the mail.

6. If you will be away from home for a long period, have the Post Office hold the mail.

7. Report any suspicious activity in the neighborhood to police or the Postal Inspection Service. Suspicious activity may be someone following the letter carrier, attempting to break into a postal vehicle, or tampering with mail.

8. If you failed to receive expected, valuable mail, report it immediately by calling banks, credit card issuers, and the Office of the Inspector General (see website at Report lesser mail theft by completing a mail theft form at or by calling 800-275-8777.

9. Use letter slots at the Post Office to mail letters or give them to a letter carrier.

10. Keep your mailbox in good repair to help prevent theft of the mailbox itself.


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4 people like this
Posted by Concerned Coach
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 22, 2016 at 10:36 am

Concerned Coach is a registered user.

There had been some horror stories from the past concerning Palo Alto's branch and the entire USPS in general.

7 people like this
Posted by Kimber
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 22, 2016 at 11:46 am

My mom sent my husband a card with money in it in April (from SC), and when we received it the money was stolen. There was definitely a rip in the envelope. Disappointing for sure, but we also learned a hard lesson of never sending cash. Glad they are investigating it and I hope they find the person(s).

5 people like this
Posted by 2014 victim
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 22, 2016 at 12:17 pm

In 2014, we sent our passports for renewal, certified, signature required. Mine got to destination just fine and processed immediate. My husband's in same style envelope mailed the same day in same manner.
We believe my husband's was definitely was stolen between CA Avenue P.O. and Sacramento Distribution Center. Feel sure it was stolen due to man's name. After many, many visits to Palo Alto post offices with no results, made contact with Federal P.O. agency. Never heard outcome of their investigation. A month later, it arrived at passport office and was issued. Feel that when thieves determined it was for a 80 year old man, they couldn't sell it, so put back in mail for delivery. If sending anything of value I take to Menlo Park of Los Altos Post Office.

5 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 22, 2016 at 3:25 pm

We have had more mail "lost" in transit than should ever be normal.

9 people like this
Posted by Former USPS fan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2016 at 3:29 pm

@2014 victim,
We had a social security letter posted with tracking, go missing. Another article sent at the same time also. The items were clearly in the system but when I tried to use the tracking system because of non arrival, one showed as having an invalid tracking number and the other was not recognized at all. These are the tracking numbers printed on the receipts. The post office people punted us from one office to another and kept closing the investigation without doing anything. This is much more serious than money lost from cards, the postal employees handle much more sensitive things than that. The post office including the office of inspector general seemed utterly uninterested in following up. (I tried at every level including managemwnt at the post office where it was mailed.) This was deeply disturbing and totally undermined trust in the local post office.

2 people like this
Posted by Cash stolen
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 22, 2016 at 3:51 pm

Glad that they are looking into this matter. Now I can understand the power of uniting together, and voicing our complaints!

I want to add that never send gift cards through mail too. My friend never received a gift card sent to her by her mom.

Now I want to see what USPS investigation will reveal.

Good work neighbors!

7 people like this
Posted by @Former USPS fan
a resident of University South
on Jul 22, 2016 at 3:57 pm

Same here! The tracking system is worthless.

I sent my brother two Stanford polos in the mail, with tracking, and they never made it to Atlanta. Despite the tracking number saying his package wound up in the mid-west somewhere (I forget exactly where) it was never found. USPS closed the case without any explanation whatsoever. Whenever I try to reopen the case, it just gets closed without any communication.

3 people like this
Posted by Chrisc
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 22, 2016 at 6:43 pm

Gift cards are also up for grabs...literally. I sent my grandson an Amazon gift card in June. He never got it, but the gift card was redeemed. I thought the theft was on the other end, Arizona, but maybe not. I don't think postal workers are screened like they used to be, in the good old days before privatization. It used to be pretty difficult to get in. The federal government test was Really hard too. My guess is that it's someone sorting the mail to the carrier so they can bury the cut envelope so carrier doesn't notice. I can't believe it's a carrier, because that would be too easy to track.

2 people like this
Posted by Tina
a resident of another community
on Jul 23, 2016 at 7:37 am

I mailed a Halloween card to my granddaughter who lives in Sunnyvale, last October with a $20 in it. My daughter called and said she didn't want to be rude but had there been money in the card because the envelope was open when she received it. I notified the Postmaster, but never heard another word about it. It seems the post office has a very large problem on their hands. I can't even imagine how the thieves figure out which envelopes to check.

5 people like this
Posted by Spinks
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 23, 2016 at 12:03 pm

""Given the size of the workforce -- more than 488,000 employees -- the integrity of postal employees is remarkable when you consider only 541 convictions occurred last year."

LOL - you don't get many convictions when you don't investigate or prosecute. Not really a number to brag about.

1 person likes this
Posted by Sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 24, 2016 at 1:39 pm

I am not surprised.

Postal people have not changed much since 1973.

On 19 August 1973 my brother and I came on a Lufthansa plane from New Delhi to pursue graduate studies and new life.

We both stuffed some India rupees in an envelop about $200. The stamped envelop was mailed and was never made it to our house in Hyderabad India.

No Cash please.


1 person likes this
Posted by Question
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 24, 2016 at 1:41 pm

I was under the impression that it is illegal to send cash by mail in the US in the first place. (Not that this would justify stealing it). Am I wrong?

1 person likes this
Posted by Cynthia Bugg
a resident of another community
on Aug 15, 2016 at 9:14 pm

I sent a card to my great niece with $60 in it. Her Dad is military and they moved to CA in January. I went in the post office in Metro Center Nashville TN and handed it to the clerk. It was mailed to San Pedro CA. My niece's mailbox has a lock on it but when she got the card you could tell it had been tampered with and the money was missing! Lesson learned but I know it had to be stolen by a postal employee.

1 person likes this
Posted by Jo
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2017 at 6:28 am

I sent a Starbucks gift card to a San Francisco area address for Christmas and it was missing out of the Christmas card when our family member rec'd it. The only way he knew it should have contained a gift card was that I mentioned it in the letter I put in the Christmas card. I was required to put two stamps on the envelope, which basically flags which envelopes have more than a card inside. The incident is under investigation by the Inspection General's office. For those of you with tracking numbers whose cases were closed -- everyone has a boss. The Inspector General reports to the Attorney General and Congress. You would file a complaint with them if the IG's office is closing your case w/o resolution concerning tracking numbers.

1 person likes this
Posted by John Texan
a resident of another community
on Jul 11, 2017 at 2:20 pm

This is happening in texas, too. I sometimes just go with fedex, costs my $20, but at least I'm not getting stolen from. Post Office is hiring too many thieves.

1 person likes this
Posted by Chemistry Student
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 11, 2017 at 4:11 pm

Sting them. Mail a bunch of cards with a chemical marker on fake bills. Silver nitrate works dandy. Stains their fingers black for a week. Nothing can remove it.

1 person likes this
Posted by "Lost" in the mail.
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 11, 2017 at 5:39 pm

Cash and gift cards were stolen from my mail for several times. Until I asked all my family, relatives not to include any valuables in their letters.
Recently, I ordered some items form Amazon. It was mailed to me thru post office.
The tracking stopped at a local post office. Never receive the package.

1 person likes this
Posted by Crime ring?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2017 at 6:12 am

Received through usps what were clearly birthday cards. Half were torn open at top, enough for someone to slide a finger into the envelope. Other times, letter has been delivered almost ripped entirely open. SOMEONE at usps is being paid to monitor Palo Alto mail integrity, but isn't doing their job. Maybe it's an inside job and the "monitor" is in the fraud ring. Palo Alto will become a magnet for USPS bad employee criminals as they continue to operate without consequences. Years ago, usps had regular sting operations, monitors, cameras, surveillance windows, and strict protocols. USPS used to be very proactive about preventing employee mail theft by actively monitoring employees. Something is wrong at the Palo Alto Bayshore station, which sorts my mail. Too many cards or letters appearing to have financial items are ripped partially open. It's so worrisome. I tried calling the usps and tried an online complaint. There system is so user unfriendly and impossible to navigate and never receive a response. That lack of an effective system to report complaints and have them followed up on makes the Palo Alto Bayshore station and the usps a great environment for thieves to operate without any fear of detection or prosecution. Tampering with the U.S. mail is a felony. The usps mail detectives ( yes, they exist, you pay for them) need to be held accountable to do their jobs.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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