A thief emptied the deposit box for paying water and sewer bills behind the Altoona Water Authority administration building on Chestnut Avenue twice last week, leading the authority to step up the locking capabilities of this box and its other drop box outside in the downtown transportation hub. .
It is not known how many payments in the form of checks, money orders and cash were made by the thief, but surveillance video of the second theft posted to the Altoona Police Department’s Facebook page showed that the thief was grabbed a handful of envelopes.
People who put checks or money orders in the box and then receive a notice of default will have to write another check or money order to make up for the loss, assuming the thief will be unable to cash any of the notes. stolen, according to authority member Mark Perry.
The authority does not intend to forgive the bills of anyone who claims to have had a cash payment stolen, as there is no way to confirm the veracity of these claims and given that the The authority makes it clear that customers should not place cash in drop boxes, Perry said.
“We are doing massive advertising, ‘no money’,” said Perry. âWe cannot go down the road of crediting anyone who pays money. “
There has been such a claim of a stolen cash payment so far, and the customer making that claim is upset, Perry said.
The authority had a first indication of the problem when a customer who deposited a payment just after midnight early last week noticed the “recovery” The door near the bottom of the drop box was open, after which the customer informed the authority, Perry said.
An employee investigated, did not notice any damage in the form of leverage marks, and felt that the employee who emptied the box most recently had failed to lock it properly, Perry said.
The authority realized that was not the case when they learned the next evening that the door was open again, Perry said.
A check of surveillance footage revealed nothing about the first apparent theft, but it did show the second theft – as seen in the APD’s Facebook video.
In this 5 p.m. video on December 8, the thief, wearing a surgical mask, hoodie, jeans and construction boots, walks past the box, then returns, sits on the sidewalk next to box and use whatever may be a choice to unlock it in about five seconds.
“He got it pretty smooth,” said Perry.
The thief extracts the contents, pockets them, gets up and walks away.
As soon as possible after viewing the surveillance footage, the authority summoned a locksmith to install on each of the outer boxes a more robust lock – requiring a double-sided key – as well as a hasp and clip to accommodate a padlock.
This creates “A two-lock system”, he said.
The boxes are emptied every morning, around noon and at the end of each workday, Perry said.
“It’s disheartening and frustrating” Perry said of the incident.
Still, other than maybe getting a few cash payments that shouldn’t have been in the box in the first place, the thief may not have been able to accomplish anything, Perry said.
“Other than creating a lot of havoc for our customers and us”, he said.
This is the first such incident involving the drop boxes that he is aware of, Perry said.
The box outside the administration office has been there since 2011, he said.
The one outside the Transport Center has been around for 20 or 25 years, he said.
Mirror staff writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.