RIVERVIEW — That wasn't Santa knocking on doors in several Hillsborough neighborhoods Christmas morning. Sheriff's deputies were undoing the work of a mail Grinch.
Hundreds of pieces of mail were stolen from mailboxes either late Monday or early Christmas morning at three Riverview-area subdivisions and elsewhere, the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office said. Some of the mail, including Christmas cards, was opened.
The mail for at least 100 area residents, from personal letters to Christmas cards and junk mail, was dumped on area streets and lawns, deputies said. Deputies received the first call about discarded mail at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.
In one case, mail from one home was stuffed into a neighbor's mailbox. In other cases, mail from one subdivision was dumped on the ground in a different subdivision, deputies said.
Investigators aren't sure if a thief or thieves kept anything or what their motive might be. They have not yet ruled out the possibility that it was a mean holiday prank.
"We don't know if it was some stupid kid or someone with an ulterior motive," such as identity theft, said Deputy Marc Wilder.
Deputies tried to return mail to homes in the area. What they were unable to deliver was left to postal officials, who also will be investigating.
"I got to play postman this morning," Wilder said.
Wilder said the Sheriff's Office is hoping somebody may have caught the theft on a home surveillance system and asks anyone with information to contact the Sheriff's Office at (813) 247-8200.
Deputies believe a car was involved because the mail was scattered over a wide area.
The neighborhoods involved included Rivercrest, Boyette Farms and Summerfield. Mail also was stolen along portions of Tucker Road.
Eight mailboxes were knocked over on Lincoln Road, but deputies are unsure whether this was related to the mail theft.
So far, no one has reported the theft of money or checks in cards, though deputies said it may take a few days for some to verify.
"Our biggest concern is identity theft," Wilder said. "People have their lives in their mailboxes."
Ed Seijo, who lives on S Stone Lane in Boyette Farms, said none of his mail was stolen. But then he paused.
"Come to think of it, we didn't get any mail at all" on Monday, he said. "That's really unusual. We usually get something."
Pat Mobley, 76, who lives on Tucker Road, said she got her mail soon after its delivery Monday. So none of her mail was stolen.
"I can't imagine anyone wanting to steal my mail," she said. "I get my Social Security check once a month. The rest of my mail is junk."