By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — With tax season here, police across the state say this is a busy time for thieves stealing from mailboxes. In Owatonna, 15 people have reported their mail stolen since late last year.

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One of those victims is John Udey. He noticed his mailbox was open the morning of Feb. 8, before he went to work, but didn’t think much of it until the police came to his home later that night.

The officers wanted to know more about a $46 check written to Udey that someone had tried to cash at a convenience store nearby. The clerk never cashed the check and instead called police.

“All I remember is my wife standing over me at 10:45 at night saying, John, you gotta get up, the police are at the door,” Udey said.

Udey said he never even noticed his mail had been disturbed.

Owatonna police haven’t been able to arrest the thief in that case yet, but do have surveillance video they hope will help identify him.

On Jan. 28, police arrested two alleged check thieves after they admitted to trying to pass a forged check at a Owatonna Wells Fargo.

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When investigators searched a home connected to the case, they say they found stolen mail from boxes all over Owatonna. Police also believe these two might have been involved in check “washing” — where thieves use a chemical wash to erase the handwritten name on the check to forge another name.

About a week later, investigators arrested another man after he was caught on surveillance camera passing a stolen check at United Prairie Bank. Police believe he stole that check from a mailbox.

The U.S. Postal Service does have tips on trying to prevent theft from your mailbox:

1. Hold or forward your mail if you’re leaving your home for more than a few days.

2. If you don’t get the check you’re expecting, contact the issuing agency.

3. Create a neighborhood watch group to look for suspicious activity.

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4. Don’t leave mail in your mail box overnight.

Heather Brown