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CHESTERFIELD,   MISSOURI ( KTVI)- A warning to Missouri  residents: do not leave outgoing  mail in your mailboxes.   Police say that little red flag is an invitation to thieves.

Chesterfield police are warning homeowners to monitor their mailboxes after a string of mail and identity thefts in  West St. Louis County including Chesterfield , Ballwin and Town and Country.  “People came  to their mailboxes, place out information to be sent  out, some of them contained checks .  As it turns out, the bad guys took advantage of that,” said Captain Steven Lewis, Chesterfield  Police Department.

The Federal Trade Commission estimates that 400,000 Americans last year had their mail stolen, and subsequently became the victims of identity theft. Stealing mail is a federal offense and suspects could face jail time.

Recently some residents were hit along White Lane Drive, Isle View and Country Ridge  in Chesterfield .  “People go to their mailbox and find something that should be there and is not.  It raises grave concern,” said Mary  Parker.   “I will be on the lookout for suspicious behavior and people looking through mailboxes,”  Tanya Denardi.

Police say outgoing and incoming mail have been  targeted. Chesterfield Police say when you raise the red flag  on your mail box for the postman to pick up a letter, you are also sending a message to thieves. “A red flag lets the bad guys know, hey I got something here,” said Captain Lewis.

Early Thursday morning  FOX 2 News crews captured video of letters pulled out of mailboxes in Wildwood.  Police say nothing was stolen but residents should always check their bank statements just in case.

Police suggest  if you have something, credit card bill statements, that you are paying and you don’t pay those online , police  recommend you take them to the post office.