Mail theft has been an increasingly severe problem in San Francisco and the wider Bay Area since the start of the pandemic, and in one recent case, a mail thief based in the East Bay has pleaded guilty in federal court.

A Concord man was just slammed with five and a half years in federal prison for impersonating a mailman to steal people’s identities. Jason Blackard pleaded guilty Wednesday to bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, fraudulent use of unauthorized devices, and attempted mail theft, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California says.

Blackard admitted to a series of criminal acts between January 2019 and February 2021, and was finally caught after surveillance cameras witnessed him approaching a relay box at Sacramento and Powell streets in San Francisco that had been targeted repeatedly for thefts. In the video, he’s wearing a United States Postal Service uniform, including the agency’s signature blue hat and jacket. He uses a USPS key to open the box, but the Justice Department has not said how he obtained the key.

Over the course of the next two years, Blackard says he used the information he got from stolen mail to open loans and write checks in other people’s names, then buy things like cars and a speedboat. In total, the feds estimate that he cost his victims over $250,000, and with those funds he purchased a $58,000 Toyota sports car, a $98,000 speedboat and trailer, a $30,000 Mercedes, $9,000 in goods from a high-end clothes retailer, and $67,000 in goods from a big box hardware store. He will have to pay about half of that back in restitution.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. In fact, the trend has been plaguing San Francisco neighborhoods for years. Postal inspectors and police alike have been warning families in the Bay Area to stay vigilant and report cases of mail theft so they can hold the criminals responsible accountable for their actions.

One similar case stems as far back as September of 2016, when SFist reported on video surveillance capturing people using a USPS master key to make their way into an apartment complex on Van Ness Avenue. The video shows them going through each individual mailbox and helping themselves to the contents inside. From there, investigators believe the duo went on to raid mailboxes in Japantown, Cow Hollow, and Fort Mason.

In early November of 2020, right as people were dropping off their ballots, SFist learned someone abused street-side mailboxes to sew discord in the presidential election. The owner of a store at 20th and Castro Streets reported seeing someone break into the mailbox and throw out at least one ballot. The market owner was able to find one ballot and hand it to a postal worker, but wasn’t sure whether others might have been tampered with. In that case, surveillance video shows the crook using a wire to pull things out of the mailbox, rather than using a master key.

All this follows a reported increase in mail thefts across the United States. And what’s worse is that the U.S. Postal Service says has no way of tracking just how many items have been stolen, because its internal customer reports system doesn’t separate out different types of complaints. Numbers from a Freedom of Information Act Request filed by NBC News showed the Postal Inspection Service Data revealed an 600% increase in mail theft reports between 2017 and 2020. The USPS called that figure overstated, but provided no alternate estimate. Despite the exact number though, it’s clear people have been targeting mailboxes more and more frequently in recent years.

Photo: Sean Boyd via Unsplash