LAKE STEVENS — It was shortly before noon May 1 when the man in a burgundy Toyota Corolla was pulled over because he wasn’t wearing his seat belt.
The man, 29, gave a phony name and claimed he didn’t have any ID on him.
The truth was, he had plenty of ID.
Officers recovered three driver licenses with the man’s photo from his wallet, police allege.
The problem was two were fakes created using stolen information. Another person’s license barcode was on the back of each.
Lake Stevens police Officer Josh Holmes couldn’t help notice “a considerable amount of mail, sealed and unsealed, sitting on the front passenger seat,” according to a search warrant.
Police also recovered bags of mail from elsewhere in the car.
Detective J. Wachtveitl took inventory. He created an Excel spreadsheet identifying 124 mail theft victims from Edmonds to Lake Stevens.
“I think a lot of it was filtered on the fly,” he said.
In one bag, police found 12 credit cards with 11 different names. None had signatures on the back, indicating to the detective they’d been stolen before the owner received them.
Lake Stevens Police Chief Randy Celori said the case should serve as a timely warning.
“In today’s society, the old mailbox needs to go away,” he said. “I think you need to be real careful now and get a secured mailbox.”
In a separate case, a Marysville man, 29, was arrested Wednesday for investigation of possessing stolen mail last December. Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office deputies found 203 pieces of mail belonging to 98 people living in Snohomish and King counties.
A sheriff’s detective received statements from 30 of the victims, according to court records. Deputies found four checkbooks belonging to a Snohomish man who had reported thefts from his mailbox. One of the stolen checks allegedly was used to order more checks using the victim’s name and account numbers.
Two cases totalling more than 200 victims might seem alarming, but it doesn’t make a trend, officials said.
“Mail theft comes and goes in spurts,” said David Schroader, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Seattle. “It honestly depends on the group of individuals doing the thefts.”
Mail thefts can be handled by the federal inspectors and local law enforcement agencies. Nationwide, 46 percent of inspectors’ arrests in 2010 related to mail theft — a total of 2,775 suspects.
The Lake Stevens case remains under investigation as police try to determine how many people might have involved. No charges have been filed.
The Lake Stevens man collared during the traffic stop was booked into the Snohomish County Jail on warrants.
He allegedly told police that another man and woman would steal mail and sort through looking for checks and credit cards that could be activated.
Some of the recovered mail included tax returns, credit card and retirement system information, birth certificates, Social Security cards and prescriptions. Some recovered checks had been altered.
There was even a stolen birthday card in a festive purple envelope.
Police believe the thieves used special software, hardware and printing supplies to print checks and to create their own ID cards. The suspect claimed that he received half the profit from each check he cashed because he wasn’t “a punk,” court papers said.
Lake Stevens police have reached some of the victims and hope to contact the rest in the coming weeks.
The Lake Stevens man at the center of the investigation has previous criminal history for financial crimes, including convictions for theft and forgery. He blamed his crimes on his methamphetamine addiction.
Likewise, the Marysville man under investigation for possessing stolen mail last December has a long history of theft.
A search of his home in November turned up “a treasure trove of evidence” linking him to identity theft and other financial crimes, a prosecutor wrote.
In what the prosecutor described as “a bit of felonious chutzpah,” the man gave the Snohomish County Jail phone number as his work phone number on a credit card application.
He was out on bail awaiting a likely sentence of six years in prison when he was arrested, officials said.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; email@example.com
Fight mail theft
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service and other agencies have several suggestions to fight mail theft:
•Collect your mail as quickly as you can after it has been delivered.
Consider getting a secure mailbox with a lock.
Call your post office to hold your mail to collect later if you are going to be away.
Report suspicious activity to the postal inspection service at 877-876-2455.
Read financial statements carefully for suspicious transactions.
If bills are late to arrive, contact the company or bank and check on their status.
If somebody steals your mail:
•Call police immediately.
Contact fraud units at your banks and credit unions.
Call the federal identity theft hotline at 877-IDTHEFT. Find guides and resources for victims at www.ftc.gov.
Keep a log of everyone you talk to about your case, with their name, title and phone number, in case you need them in the future.
Review your credit report.
Change passwords and PINs on your accounts.