U.S. postal inspectors are warning people around Southern California about an increase in mail thefts this holiday season.
They've seen a spike in thefts in Studio City, Toluca Lake, Hollywood and Long Beach.
In some cases, the thieves are likely linked to organized crime, authorities say.
"Organizations that are doing it now are those old gangs that have been around for 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years," said an inspector, who requested anonymity because of ongoing undercover investigations. "They've just found a new way to make money."
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The inspector provided surveillance video, which she says shows two suspected gang members stealing mail from a home in North Long Beach. They can be seen approaching, grabbing the letters, and disappearing in less than 2 minutes.
The investigator said that in Long Beach mail theft is becoming the vice of choice for rival gangs, replacing drugs and violent crime.
"You can find these factions trying to assert their muscle by increasing their take," the inspector said.
The sophisticated gangs convert letters and packages into cash.
"Organized crews have transportation as a part of their scheme. They have look outs as part of their scheme. They have distractions as a part of their scheme," she said. "Then they have the people who actually steal the mail."
U.S. Postal Service officials say there are easy ways to protect yourself from mail and package theft this holiday season.
Instead of having your mail delivered at home, get a post office box, or have deliveries made to your place of work.