USPS Is Blocking the Use of Blue Mailboxes in These Areas

A rise in mail theft has resulted in new measures being taken by the postal agency.

Most people put a lot of trust in the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), even if we don't necessarily realize it. From financial checks to personal records sent in the mail, the agency is actually responsible for handling a significant amount of the important documents in our lives. The USPS uses postal inspectors from the Postal inspection Service (USPIS) to ensure "security, privacy, and reliability" for everyone using the mail, but their job has seemingly gotten harder in recent years due to a rise in mail theft.

In response, the Postal Service has resorted to blocking the use of blue mailboxes in certain areas. Read on to find out more about this measure and if you will be impacted.

READ THIS NEXT: USPS Is Making Even More Changes to Your Mail, Starting Jan. 22.

Mail theft has skyrocketed in the U.S. recently.

Mails and bills on stacking closeup
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Data from the USPIS indicates that there were 33,000 reports of incidents involving mail carrier robberies and mail theft in 2021, according to AARP. This is a significant jump from just 24,000 reports two years earlier in 2019. David Maimon, a professor that researches cyber crimes and mail theft at Georgia State University, told The Crime Report that when he and his team initially started researching mail theft, they only saw about 100 stolen checks a week being sold online. But now they see around 2,000 a week.

Mail thieves often target financial checks so that they can "wash" them with a basic household chemical that can dissolve various types of ink, according to Mark Solomon, vice president of the International Association of Financial Crimes Investigators. This allows them to "make [stolen checks] out to whomever they want,
change the dollar amount, and forge the customer signature from the check," Solomon told AARP. "Sometimes they can even put some superglue over the signature of the check while washing it, to keep the [original] signature."

Blue collection boxes have played a major part in the increase.

USPS Post Office Mail Trucks. The Post Office is responsible for providing mail delivery.
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Thieves appear to have zeroed in on the Postal Service's collection boxes during this recent rise in mail theft. The Vermont Bankers Association told the Addison Independent in Dec. 2022 that it is seeing an increase in check fraud across the state, largely attributed to checks being stolen out of these blue collection boxes. "The USPS blue mailboxes on streets and outside post office buildings that accommodate sending mail during non-business hours for the USPS are not secure," the association wrote in a separate alert. "Mail is stolen from these mailboxes and the checks enclosed are being altered, and fraudsters attempt to steal money from the victim's bank account."

This is being referred to as a "fishing" crime, as thieves are literally fishing for mail that might include checks in these blue boxes, the Addison Independent reported. According to the newspaper, Tom Hanley, a police chief in Middlebury, Vermont, warned that thieves are gaining access to this mail by dropping a weighted device coated with a sticky substance into the collection box to pull it out.

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The USPS has started blocking some of these mailboxes as a result.

A row of blue mailboxes.
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The Postal Service is working to prevent the use of its collection boxes in these criminal schemes. In Tennessee, several blue mailboxes in Germantown and Memphis have recently had their deposit slots taped off, local NBC-affiliate Action News 5 reported on Jan. 12. The USPS told the news outlet that some collection boxes in the area "were temporarily taped off or removed due to damages sustained that deemed them non-secure." Replacement boxes have already been ordered and they will be installed as soon as they come in, according to the agency.

"The Postal Service appreciates its customers and always strives to provide the best possible service. Safeguarding the security and sanctity of the mail is of paramount importance. This includes ensuring our blue collection boxes are secured, safe, and in good condition at all times," the Postal Service's Corporate Communications office said. "Customers are reminded that they can securely and safely deposit items in the lobby drop boxes at post offices where drive-up boxes are temporarily out of service. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause our customers, and appreciate their patience as we work to resolve this issue."

The agency has even warned against using collection boxes in certain situations.

TROY, MICHIGAN - AUGUST 13, 2019: USPS mailbox beside sidewalk
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You don't need to wait for the Postal Service to block off one of these mailboxes for you to stop using it, however. In fact, the agency has actually warned people against using collection boxes on certain days or at specific times because of an increased risk for mail theft. "The biggest variable enticing these criminals to steal are customers depositing mail into blue collection boxes after the last collection of the day or during Sundays and federal holidays," the USPS said in a release, per Al.com.

According to the Postal Service, the most "secure way to send mail" is by doing so at your local post office's retail counter. But if you're not able to go inside, you should never deposit mail after it has already been collected for the day. "If customers simply used retail service or inside wall drop slots to send their U.S. Mail, instead of depositing it to sit outside overnight or through the weekend, blue collection boxes would not be as enticing after business hours to mail thieves for identity theft and check-washing schemes," the USPS explained.

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