“We urge folks who may have used those mailboxes to be vigilant."

Federal postal inspectors promised a stepped-up effort to secure the U.S. Postal Service’s iconic blue collection mailboxes after someone targeted four of them in the Rochester area in a destructive rash of break-ins.

“We urge folks who may have used those mailboxes to be vigilant,” warned Postal Inspector Raymond Williams on Tuesday.

The Monroe County Sheriff’s office reports that between Friday September 7th and Saturday September 8th, two of the mailboxes outside the post office on Pittsford Palmyra road in Pittsford were hit by someone who tried to pry them open. A statement from the Sheriff’s Office reports the boxes were “significantly damaged” and one of them was successfully opened and all the mail in it was stolen. That same night, the statement reports an “unknown suspect” also tried to get into two mailboxes in the driveway of the post office on Jefferson Road in Henrietta. While those boxes ended up with “pry marks” on them, neither box was opened and no mail was stolen.

“I am starting to wonder a lot now lately,” exclaimed postal customer Ron Smith of Henrietta who found it hard to believe such a crude crime could go unnoticed. “People, cars, going in and out, you would think, if somebody's breaking in, it would be pretty obvious pretty fast."

On Tuesday, there was no evidence of the crime at the Palmyra post office …except for the striking absence of two of the three collection mailboxes in the post office driveway. In their place, there was nothing but the bolts in the sidewalk that once secured them. The boxes had been removed and taken into the custody of postal inspectors, Williams said.

“It makes you think. It always makes you wonder,” said customer Sherry Johnson as she dropped off what she acknowledged was a check to pay her taxes at one of the Henrietta mailboxes. But I’m hoping it’s not a widespread problem and they’ll take care of it. I would hope that there’s cameras somewhere around here.”

The Sheriff’s Office reported that there is no surveillance video of the crimes and that the damage to the mailboxes reached an estimated $1600.

On the other hand, the value of the mail stolen raised serious concerns for postal officials who warned the missing mail could be a bonanza for identity thieves. A mailbox full of utility bills or car payments raised the prospect of criminals getting control of valuable documents.

"Wash a check, change a check amount…” Williams ticked off. “Also, if you have your checking account information in there, obviously there's access to someone's bank account."

Williams pointed out that mail theft had typically constituted only a small percentage of the source of identity theft but cautioned customers to closely watch bank statements and credit reports. “If anyone opens up an account that they don’t know about,” he said, “or if they receive a strange bill in the mail, or if they don’t receive something they normally would receive, those all potentially could be indicators that something is amiss.”

Cindy Kubiak of East Rochester resolved to be wary as she dropped off three checks for bill payments in the mailbox at the Henrietta post office. “I’ll keep an eye out and see,” she said, “make sure the three I put in there come out.”

She also mentioned that there were far more opportunities for criminals than breaking open a mailbox. “You know, when you use your credit card at the gas station, you still have to do it but you take the risk that someone’s going to scam,” she said.

As the investigation goes on, Williams promised postal official would work to “harden” the mail boxes to deter potential thieves, as well as to confound any who could not be deterred. “We’ll redouble our efforts at any location that might be compromised,” he promised. “We work with the Postal Service all the time to shore up security at locations that may be, maybe some evidence of compromising.”