BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ -- The police department is cautioning residents about an increase in incidents of mail theft related to COVID-19 guidance.

"There is an increase in the theft of mail occurring in this jurisdiction and surrounding jurisdictions," Bernards Police Lt. Jon Burger said in a statement. "Unfortunately, criminals are now taking advantage of COVID-19 protocols and individuals who are leaving mail in their mailboxes for the post office to pick up at the residence."

According to Bernards Township police, residents have been placing the red bar or flag in the "up" position indicating to the postal employees that mail needs to be retrieved. This has resulted in thieves observing that mail is in the mailbox. They "are taking the mail specifically looking for checks which are then 'washed' or refabricated and then made out to cash or other individuals and taken to banks outside of this jurisdiction," Burger said.

Post Offices are still open in both Basking Ridge and Liberty Corner. "It is strongly advised that mail containing any form of payment should be taken to the post office and deposited inside the post office or bills should be paid electronically," Burger said.