BREMERTON, Wash. -- Officers found a "massive amount" of stolen mail -- everything from checks to financial information to holiday cards -- in a wooded area of Bremerton Sunday, according to the Bremerton Police Department.
Officers believe most of the mail was stolen from rural mailboxes.
"For something like this to happen to so many people...it's something that's really violating," says Bremerton Police Chief Steve Strachan. "We're talking about more than 500 pieces of mail found opened and dumped on the side of the road."
The discarded mail was discovered Sunday near Bremerton International Airport. Property caretaker Mike Archer noticed what he first thought was a pile of garbage behind some stumps along Lake Flora Road.
"We get lots of people dumping stuff out here," he says. "But when I saw credit and debit cards I knew this was mail and I called 9-1-1."
Police say the thief or thieves left behind some cards. They stole plenty of others, and were probably dumping what they didn't want while traveling through rural Bremerton.
"Whoever would do something like this I just don't understand," says Archer. "I hope they get caught. That's what needs to happen. They need to have the book thrown at 'em."
Police are still sorting through all the evidence. They've identified 194 victims' names for 127 different addresses. Some of the addresses are for banks and stores.
Detectives plan to review security camera video from those locations to try and identify suspects. They will also try to take fingerprints from pieces of mail, along with gathering footprints and tire tread marks from the scene.
The police chief says it's wrong to think mail theft is a relatively minor crime.
"Sometimes it's sort of minimized like it's not a big deal. It's a big deal," Stachan says. "Somebody's gotten into your mail, has taken your information, something that belonged to you."
Now, he adds, victims need to worry about the possibility of identify theft.
"It can have a real impact financially. Somebody gets a hold of a debit card, an ATM card, a check. That's exactly what these folks (criminals) were looking for."
Police have no suspects at this point. Those who believe they are among the victims are asked to contact their local law enforcement agency. Tips or information about evidence be directed to Bremerton.
The Bremerton officer to contact is Detective May at (360) 473-5361.
Officers will contact victims and hope to eventually return all the stolen mail. It could take weeks or months as officers work through their case.
Chief Strachan offered a few tips to help residents reduce the chances of mail theft. He suggests using a locking mailbox that can be purchased at most hardware and home improvement stores.
It's best to mail your letters at an actual U.S. Postal Service mailbox rather than leave them for the carrier to pick up from your residential mailbox. Also, carefully and frequently monitor your bank accounts for evidence of unauthorized activity.