Wednesday, December 6, 2023

New tech to deter rural mailbox thieves

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Surge in parcels being stolen from rural households’ letterboxes prompts response.
Rural mail contractor Mark Duytshoff, left, and MailNox developer Nick Deane have worked on a solution to slow and deter rural mail thefts.
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A rash of rural mail thefts around Bay of Plenty has prompted a high-tech response from the local community to try to stem losses from letterboxes.

After almost four years owning their rural delivery route, Western Bay of Plenty couple Mark and Cathy Duytshoff noticed a surge in the amount of mail being stolen from rural households’ letterboxes on their route covering the harbour side of the district north of Tauranga.

“We noticed a real lift in thefts and put some thought to how to reduce it. People love the rural delivery service, it is something that is admired overseas, but people were losing confidence in it because of the risk.”

In areas like Western Bay of Plenty on the fringes of larger urban centres there is significantly greater density of rural boxes, and often fewer people at home during the day to collect their mail when it arrives.

“We looked at things like a secure lock box, but then we met Nick Deane on our route who also had an idea that was more advanced that what we had come up with. We decided to work together on something that would not only work for households, but also for rural posties.”

Despite having 400 households on their rural delivery route, the Duytshoffs’ run is one of the smaller ones in the region, with some having 600-plus households to get through, six days a week.

“So, time becomes critical, you cannot have a padlock with keys to sort through, every five seconds extra per delivery becomes quite significant every day.”

Deane, an entrepreneur and tech expert, had developed a lock for letter boxes that uses Near Field Communication (NFC) signals, a short-range wireless communication like that used in PayWave tech.

“We were happy to work with Nick on this and to trial it from a postie’s view.”

Deane launched the MailNox lock this week after initially trialling it through the Tauranga rural delivery area. He has been overwhelmed with interest from across the country.

He said the incentive to come up with something arose after he had his personalised vehicle plates stolen from his Whakamārama mailbox last year.

“They were taken to Palmerston North, put on a stolen ute that looked like mine, and then the thieves started taking petrol without paying for it, and I was pulled up for owing money at a petrol station.”

After reviewing CCTV footage he learnt what their modus operandi was but the offenders remain at large.

Meantime his discreet letter box has been the dumping site for stolen mail that thieves had sorted through, leaving unwanted material in his box.

The lock currently fits to the popular Wilson Plastics brand of rural mailbox, and Deane is working to expand the boxes it is suitable for. 

On installation the rural delivery customer receives two swipe cards for opening the box, and the rural mail contractor has a universal swipe card that works only on boxes on their particular route. 

So far 10 have been installed and are operating on the Duytshoffs’ RD2 route.

Rural Delivery Contractors Association president Peter Logger said there has been a noticeable surge in mail theft, with several in the past month on his run, also in Bay of Plenty.

“It is worrying as it is not possible to go and deliver to the door all the time.” 

He said the nature of rural delivery has changed, and what was once a mail service with the occasional parcel is now very much the opposite.

In the same region another delivery couple, Lisa and Kenny McLean, are offering tech that texts box owners when a parcel is delivered.

In a written response, NZ Post’s area service delivery manager Brittany Small of Tauranga said some of NZ Post’s delivery partners are taking initiatives to ensure safe delivery of customers’ mail.

She said NZ Post does not receive many customer complaints about mail theft, but its rural team often brings in mail that has been found discarded along its run.

“Instances of mail and parcels being stolen after they are delivered is very disappointing and now is the perfect time for people to be more vigilant with more parcels being delivered in the lead-up to Christmas,” she said.

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