Thieves Targeting South Florida Mailboxes for Tax Refunds

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    The United States Postal Service says thieves are getting into mailboxes using counterfeit keys to steal tax returns. NBC 6's Willard Shepard reports. (Published Friday, April 18, 2014)

    The United States Postal Service says thieves are getting into mailboxes using counterfeit keys to steal tax returns.

    In a video obtained exclusively by NBC 6, U.S. postal inspectors said William Gomez is seen inside a Coral Gables apartment building using an unauthorized key to gain access to the mailboxes. The postal inspectors say that the leftover mailbox keys from letter carriers, or the making of fake keys, can be part of identity theft and tax fraud operations.

    Gomez is seen opening multiple boxes at a time--sifting through the mail. Federal officials believe he also went into a building in Miami Beach and Sunny Isles.

    Officials say Miguel Cadierno is Gomez’s accomplice as he’s also seen in surveillance video opening numerous mailboxes. He appears to spot the camera--comes right up to it--and then returns to the boxes. Cadierno also opened the mailbox with the fake key, inspectors said.

    Cadierno was prosecuted for possessing an unauthorized mailbox key and Gomez also faced a charge of identity theft. Both were sentenced to time in federal prison. Postal inspectors say their actions are just an example of fraud that many South Florida residents will shortly discover.

    “A lot of people now after tax season has closed, are going to find out that their tax returns were already filed by someone else,” said Bladismir Rojo, U.S. Postal Inspector.

    Access to mailboxes is critical in the tax fraud and identity theft operations, officials said.
    Inspectors say crooks look for empty apartment units and have IRS checks or debit cards sent to where nobody will notice.

    “The bad guys have already done a tax return on you. They've already gotten the return loaded onto a card or sent to one of these mailboxes and they've already gotten it,” Rojo said.

    Federal officials say when crooks use fake keys its rare that anybody knows what they are doing, until it’s too late.

    “Surveillance can get you, but for the most part you go unnoticed,” Rojo said.

    Officials say if you see someone without a postal uniform going into the mailbox area--don't confront them--but remember what they look like and tell the apartment or condo management and notify police.

    If your tax return doesn’t show up in a reasonable time, contact your local IRS office.