A woman drove up to a mailbox outside a Roseville residence last Thursday, reached in and retrieved a package. She lowered the red flag, shut the mailbox and drove off.

What she didn’t know was that the package was a decoy left by police conducting an undercover sting operation in hopes of catching thieves who have taken mail from more than 20 homes in the city in recent weeks.

Officers stopped a maroon Toyota Camry a few blocks away and arrested the woman and two others who were in the vehicle. Officers also found a journal with a handwritten entry that read “Places to hit MBXS” and listed St. Paul Park, Newport, Cottage Grove and cities along I-494. A second entry read “learn the area for possible getaways.”

The three suspects, a 32-year-old male, a 31-year-old woman, and a 50-year-old woman, all from St. Paul, admitted to being involved in the thefts and have been linked to several cases in other cities, said Lt. Erika Scheider with the Roseville Police Department.

Officers who made the arrest around 2:15 p.m. found a cup full of chemicals being used to remove ink from a check stolen from another Roseville residence. Additional items used to “wash” checks were found throughout the vehicle, including acetone, Clorox wipes, and various colored pens. Mail theft suspects often remove ink from stolen checks in order to alter the payee and monetary values, Scheider said.

Numerous pieces of stolen mail and several other washed checks from throughout the metro area were found in the vehicle, Scheider said.

Detectives are working with the United States Postal Inspector and contacting victims to advise them that their mail has been recovered. Roseville Police are asking residents with surveillance systems to review their video for scenes that show the suspect’s vehicle stopping near mailboxes or in front of residences. One victim recalled seeing the suspect’s vehicle stopped in front of their mailbox earlier in the week, but did not initially realize that their mail had been stolen, Scheider said.

The case will be presented to the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office for identity and mail theft charges against all three individuals, she said.

Police recommend that residents enroll in the Postal Service’s Informed Delivery program, a free service that lets consumers preview images of their mail scheduled for delivery and manage packages that are expected to arrive.

To guard against mail theft, the Postal Inspection Service offers these tips:

• Use the letter slots at your post office to mail letters, or give them to a letter carrier.

• Pick up mail promptly after delivery.

• Don’t leave it in your mailbox overnight. 

• Don’t send cash in the mail.

• Ask your bank for “secure” checks that can’t be altered.

• Tell the post office to hold mail while when you are out of town.

• Switch to paperless billing and statements when possible.