Although it is not obvious to everyone, mailbox manufacturers, property crime statistics and post office personnel will tell you that there has been a recent uptick in mail theft, identity fraud and check forgery. Although it’s hard to pin down the causes precisely, Cascade Building Inc. a specialist in mailbox security upgrading, believes that there are three main causes for increased mail box break-ins.

  • Prop 47 emptying California prisons of non-violent offenders to reduce overcrowding.
  • Increasing opioid drug addiction.
  • Prop 47 also reduced check forgery [under $950] was reduced to a misdemeanor.

With these trends, we believe that there is an increasing negligence tort risk in not upgrading mailboxes to current USPS security standards. Although there are no specific mailbox related tort judgments for identity fraud against property owners we track LexisNexis regularly and feel it is only a matter of time.

What are the Current USPS Mailbox Security Specs?

We believe that prudent owners should reduce legal risk and stay current with one of the two current USPS security specs for mailboxes:

1) 2001 Spec F for cluster box units [CBUs], and

2) 2004 “USPS STD-4C” specification for 4C STD Horizontal mailboxes

Both of these USPS specifications are the latest in security protection – and thus – the best risk reduction strategy for property managers and owners defense against “foreseeable risk” in the event of a lawsuit. In fact, even having a plan to upgrade can be a mitigating jury factor against negligence in any identity theft negligence tort action since it shows that the property managers / owner were not negligent but rather were proactive in reducing “foreseeable risk” to tenants related to identity theft resulting from negligence in upgrading old “out-of-spec” mailboxes. Although the USPS still “owns” some of the old NDCBU mailboxes AND the USPS has a legal obligation to protect mail and packages from theft, the USPS is now out of the mailbox manufacturing and installation business. It is likely that owners and property managers will also become defendants in negligence tort action and that this will be triggered by the first California controlling case linking negligence to upgrade and identity theft.

A Negligence Tort Judgement Can Potentially Cost in the 6-7 digits.

In negligence torts in California, juries are given instructions as to the elements of the tort and are also directed to controlling case law for negligence. Since torts carry special damages which can be in the 6-7 figures, it is very important to not be caught flat footed as was the case in the CA 400 cited controlling case Rowland v Christian which seems to have been controlling case law for some time now. https://www.casebriefs.com/blog/law/torts/torts-keyed-to-epstein/affirmative-duties/rowland-v-christian-2/  In other words, knowing about mail theft and NOT doing anything about it or EVEN having a plan is just where you don’t want to be if a mail theft at your apartment mailboxes results in identity theft/fraud. In addition to special damages and compensatory damages, attorney fees can also be well into the 6 figures.

CACI 400. Negligence—Essential Factual Elements

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [he/she] was harmed by [name of defendant]’s negligence. To establish this claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

1. That [name of defendant] was negligent;

2. That [name of plaintiff] was harmed; and

3. That [name of defendant]’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing [name of plaintiff]’s harm.” [New September 2003; Revised June 2005, December 2007, December 2011]

In addition to proving these elements, CACI 400 instructs juries to look for “foreseeability of risk and harm’ and that apartment owners have a “duty to exercise Due Care under CC§1714(a) to which “no exception should be made unless clearly supported by public policy.”

How Mail Related Identity Theft Works

When mail burglars steal mail, they are looking for pieces of personal information such as names, addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers and account numbers, all of which can be found on one outgoing check, depending on how much information the potential victim has printed on the checks. The mail burglars then either make counterfeit checks with the information they find or soak the ink off checks and re-write them. If they get enough information and a pre-approved credit card application, they can open an account using the victim’s name and their own address. They then max out the credit cards on a line of credit the victim doesn’t even know exists. The Federal Trade Commission received more than 86,000 complaints in 2001 from victims of identity theft, the most prevalent form being credit card fraud. In more than 60 percent of the cases, the identity burglars had set up new credit card accounts in their victims’ names. Mail burglars rack up tremendous debts, buying home electronics and cars, for example. And when they fail to pay the credit card bills, the perpetrator isn’t the one whose name is on the account – it’s the victim. Even though the victim isn’t at fault, the hit to his or her credit can be devastating. Victims of identity theft frequently have a hard time getting loans or being approved for credit cards because of the black marks on their credit history.

Upgrade to the Latest USPS Security Specs and Reduce Negligence Tort Risk

Opioid addiction is currently a national problem being made worse by the release of non-violent ex-addicts under Prop 47 onto the streets. So both new addicts and ex-addicts “steal to support their habits” and this means easy picking of old out-of-spec mailboxes found in many apartment buildings and HOAs. Prudent property managers and owners should therefore develop plans to upgrade to the latest USPS security specs and reduce negligence tort risk.

 

James [Jim] McBurney is Marketing Manager of CASCADE BUILDING, INC, which is CSLB licensed and a fully insured contractor specializing in apartment mailbox repair and upgrade services in the San Francisco Bay Area. The company provides free risk assessment and free proposals for the sale and installation of USPS [latest security] 4C STD Horizontal recessed, wall mounted, free-standing or pedestal mailboxes and Specification F CBUs. The company uniquely provides a Turnkey Service  http://www.cascadebuildinginc.com/turnkeyservices.htm  including all written postmaster approval agreements, project management, tenant communication strategy, key distribution and free of charge owner demo presentations. Whether an emergency due to a mail theft or a planned upgrade you can contact Jim on his cell at 408-733-9479 or by email at info@cascadebuilsinginc.com or jcmcburney@aol.com.