RIDGEFIELD, N.J. -- Thieves are fishing envelopes containing checks and cash from various free-standing mailboxes throughout Ridgefield, say police who are urging citizens to go inside the post office to mail money.
The more common tools are hardly sophisticated: Sometimes it's nothing more than a weighted line covered with reversed duct tape or rat-trap glue.
Dozens of borough residents and merchants have reported losing money -- at the time of year when a large number of checks and cash are sent as gifts or payments.
"Once stolen, the check is forged and cashed," said a borough resident who reported losing $2,500.
“If you are mailing a check, please enter the Post Office to do so,” Ridgefield Police Lt. Jose Brito urged.
He also warned against placing any mail in a free-standing box at night or on a holiday or weekend, because it will end up sitting there awhile.
Stealing mail is a federal crime that carries a prison term of up to five years for a conviction. Fishers nonetheless have been at work throughout the country for decades.
Most of them lower a sticky line into a mailbox and wait for people to drop in their envelopes.
But there have also been reports of bandits taping pillowcases inside the mouths of mailboxes and later pulling the sacks out like Santa Claus.
The thieves pocket any cash or alter any checks they find, then deposit the money in their own accounts. They can also retrieve information to steal identities, authorities say.
In some areas, the U.S. Postal Service has rigged mailboxes with teeth-like devices of their own aimed at foiling the fishers.
Meanwhile, federal inspectors are working with borough police to identify and catch the thieves.
Ridgefield police ask that you call them immediately if you see someone fishing or tampering with a mailbox or sitting in a car parked for a long time near one: (201) 943-5210 .
You can also contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service Hotline at (877) 876-2455 .