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Last post for insecure mailboxes

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If there was one thing about its entrance that would put me off buying an apartment – apart from the obvious warning signs like grafitti, broken windows and wandering Airbnb guests bleating about missing keys – it would be the position of the mailboxes.

If the block’s mailboxes were outside, where they could be both stuffed full of unwanted fliers and emptied of their contents of any value, I’d turn around and pace out the distance to the nearest post office – because that’s where residents would be spending a lot of time, collecting their mail.

It amazes me that new home buyers tolerate the idea that a row of tin boxes that could be prized open with a butter knife is somehow an acceptable place for your credit cards, bank statements and personal letters to be delivered.

According to one story from 2016  gangs of mailbox thieves target city apartment blocks’ mailboxes and they aren’t just stealing credit cards so they can go on a spending spree.

Credit cards are used to buy goods that are later sold for cash, says the NSW Fraud and Cybercrime Squad. More worryingly, personal information from letters and documents is exchanged for cash or drugs then sold to overseas crime syndicates who use the data in bank frauds.

The obvious answer is to rent a Post Office box, but why do developers put mailboxes outside apartment blocks in the first place?

The simple answer is that it’s a lot cheaper and doesn’t take up space in the building that could be sold for residential or commercial use.

The next step up from the external mailbox is a mailroom inside the building.  If your building is secure, so too is your mailbox. Now you only have to worry about neighbours stealing your stuff.

A room with a locked door that requires a pass key and has a couple of security cameras keeping an eye on things means that your new credit card and the follow-up letter with the PIN code have a much greater chance of getting to you.

But the Rolls Royce option is to have a concierge who either oversees the mailbox or actually hands out the mail as you come past.

It’s a comforting point of engagement in a large building where you can pick up your mail and engage in low-level harmless gossip.

Of course, because this is strata, it all gets very political very quickly. Just try distributing fliers that suggest a change of committee to see how quickly access to the pigeon holes is blocked.

Getting back to basics, if you have external mailboxes that are regularly stuffed with fliers or raided for the stray credit cards of the unwary, find a secure empty corner of your car park and get them moved there.

But then, if your committee is paranoid about residents communicating with each other, expect no help from those who get their mail delivered elsewhere.

And there’s the trade-off – free speech can mean easy access to thieves, scammers and the distributors of junk-mail. But leaving your communications, including parcel pick-up notices, where anyone can see them is just too risky for words.

A version of this column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review. 

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