FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- With the holiday shopping season underway, thieves are already striking mailboxes in the Central Valley.
"There has been a really unprecedented wave of robberies of letter carriers on their routes over the last couple of years," Postal Inspector Matthew Norfleet told Action News.
As mail theft rises nationwide, the United States Postal Service says it is cracking down on the crime as it delivers millions of holiday packages.
The law enforcement arm of the Postal Service has arrested more than 500 people for mail theft in just the last six months, and Clovis Police Department Corporal Rich Ashcraft says thieves are also striking here in the Central Valley.
"Especially this time of year," Ashcraft said. "You get into the holidays (and) a lot of people are expecting things. People are sending things. So criminals, they know about that."
Data shared by the department shows there have been nearly 400 calls to report mail theft to Clovis PD this year, a slight rise compared to last year.
Over in Central Fresno, one resident told Action News break-ins at community mailboxes in the area have left many heading to the Post Office off Hughes and Dakota avenues to get their mail.
But she said there are so many people that the line is often long and slow-moving.
Andrew Strong is another Fresno resident who said mail thieves have hit his mailbox.
"It's terrible when you go out and you see your mailbox is open, and you're expecting something in the mail, and now you know you're not going to get it," Strong said.
He said the thieves often pry and prop open mailboxes, stealing the contents long before residents can get their mail and packages.
But Ashcraft and Norfleet told us the thieves are sometimes even more brazen and target the letter carriers themselves.
"A major issue over the last few years (is) people duplicating those master keys," Ashcraft said. "Somebody gets a hold of the master key to those communal mailboxes, and they can mass produce it pretty easily with a grinder and some simple tools."
To combat mail theft, the Postal Service offers the Informed Delivery Service, allowing you to see pictures of incoming mail online so you know what to expect.
Officials say you can also sign up for a PO Box or reduce your mail by receiving paperless bills and tax documents.