USPS Is Now Warning Customers About This Major Mail Problem
This issue has gotten worse over time, and now your mail could be in danger.
Whether you're sending out carefully crafted wedding invitations or waiting on a tax document to arrive in the mail, you count on the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to keep your mail safe. The agency serves more than 161 million addresses across the country and processes an average of more than 425 million mail pieces every single day. But there's only so much the agency can do when it comes to protecting your deliveries. In fact, the USPS is now warning about a major mail problem that's becoming more common over time. Read on to find out how your mail could be in danger.
Mail theft of checks is becoming more common, reports say.
Mail-related check theft is becoming an increasingly prevalent type of crime, according to a March 28 report from Bloomberg. Per the news outlet, there is an underground market where stolen checks are being posted for sale online. The internet has added a new layer to mail thefts, as thieves can "sell stolen materials such as mailbox keys and checks in online forums, increasing the financial rewards," as well as "egg each other on by posting photos and videos of their exploits on social media apps and dark web sites," Bloomberg explained.
David Maimon, an associate professor of criminal justice and criminology at Georgia State University and director of the Evidence-Based Cybersecurity Research Group, told NPR that thieves usually try one of two methods to get their hands on your checks through the USPS system. "Some of them simply go to your home mailbox and take the mail you left for the post office to pick up," he said. "Others simply go to the blue boxes with the keys that they were able to steal from some of the mailmen out there, empty the boxes and get the checks that some of us send to our utility companies or our loved ones when we want to send a gift. That's how easy it is."
The USPS confirmed that mail theft complaints have increased recently.
These reports are making their way to the Postal Service. According to the Inspector General of the USPS, mail theft complaints increased by 161 percent from March 2020 to Feb. 2021. During this time, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) received 299,020 complaints of mail theft. Just this month, the USPS told the Department of Justice that more than 165 armed robberies against letter carriers had taken place since Oct. 2021, Bloomberg reported. If that rate stayed consistent through December, it would equate to a 400 percent increase from armed robberies in 2019, per an internal memo reviewed by Bloomberg Businessweek.
And it appears that mail-related check fraud is also rising.
The USPIS said it also received 40,727 complaints of mail fraud between March 2020 to Feb. 2021. When looking specifically at mail-related check fraud, incidents have been rising since Aug. 2021, according to the Evidence-Based Cybersecurity Research Group at Georgia State University. The organization reported that they found an average of 1,325 stolen checks put up for sale every week during the month of October, which was more than double what they saw in September and triple the average from August.
"They take the check. They take a screenshot just in case. And then they use nail polish remover to remove the payee, as well as the amount that the victim essentially wrote on a check," Maimon explained to NPR. "Once they have that, they take another picture and then they upload the picture with the clean check on several darknets, as well as encrypted communication platforms that facilitate the online fraud underground markets."
The USPS said it works closely with inspectors to protect mail.
In a statement to NPR, the USPS said mail theft related to stolen checks through mailboxes or collection boxes falls under the jurisdiction of postal inspectors. "The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) takes seriously its role to safeguard America and will continue to aggressively pursue perpetrators that use the U.S. mail system to further their illegal activity," the agency told the news outlet.
The USPS added that every day, it "safely and efficiently delivers millions of checks, money orders, credit cards and merchandise. Unfortunately, such items are also attractive to thieves and that is why Postal Inspectors across the country are at work to protect your mail."