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Reports of Mail Theft Increasing in Twin Cities, Elsewhere

ST. PAUL (AP) - Reports of mail theft are increasing across Minnesota, western Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota, with a significant amount being reported in the Twin Cities, the U.S. Postal Service said.

Thieves are stealing envelopes from mailboxes, in some cases using a kind of nail polish remover to alter checks and cash them, the postal service said.

Sue Matt, a postal inspector in St. Paul, said many thefts are happening in Twin Cities suburbs, where mailboxes sitting along the street are easy prey for thieves.

According to the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department, the number of reported mail thefts in seven cities nearly doubled over a three-month period since last year.

In Mounds View, residents have reported a half-dozen recent incidents. Eagan police have looked into 12 cases of mail theft in the last three months.

Some of the thefts can escalate into full-blown identity theft, where thieves use a person's checking account, driver's license and Social Security numbers to create computerized checks or open charge accounts.

John and Florence Freitager of Mounds View realized their outgoing mail had been stolen when they received a letter from the city of Minneapolis informing them that a parking ticket was not paid.

They had paid the ticket - or thought they had. Then they received their Visa statement and noticed a late charge.

They had paid that, as well. John Freitager had written a check for $439.43 to Visa, slipped it into an envelope and walked it and five other bills to the mailbox at the end of their driveway.

After the couple learned that phone and cable TV companies hadn't received their payments either, "that's when we knew something was up," Florence Freitager said.

John Freitager visited his bank and learned his check for $439.43 had been cashed. But rather than being made out to Visa, the check had been made to an individual with false identification.

Authorities said the check was "washed," meaning it was dipped into a solution that fades the handwritten ink on the face of the check but does not affect the printed information, such as bank name and the checking account number, allowing a forger to write a new name on the payee line but trace the original signature at the bottom.

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