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What began with a $1 payment to her credit card company turned into a loss of $1,000 and months of hassle for Ana Warner, 80.
Still a few days away from receiving her next Social Security check, Warner lost $1,000 from her checking account, which was overdrawn. “I was cleaned out,” she says. While the vast majority of mail sent through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) — which handles some 129 billion pieces a year — arrives without incident, mail theft and mail carrier robberies are a growing problem around the U.S. It’s causing alarm and drawing more intense scrutiny from law enforcement and particularly the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).
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In 2021 there were 33,000 reports of incidents involving mail carrier robberies and mail theft, up from 24,000 in 2019, according to the USPIS. The uptick isn’t being fueled by lone thieves and random porch pirates, explains Brendan T. Donahue, Assistant Inspector in Charge at the USPIS Criminal Investigations Group. The most pernicious perpetrators are working for “organized criminal groups that are extremely tech savvy and adept at countering law enforcement techniques,” he says.
For years mail theft was primarily a West Coast problem, prevalent in cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, Donahue notes, but the USPIS has recently been seeing more incidents in the eastern U.S., particularly in and around Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; and New York City. There were at least 13 mail carrier robberies in the Greater Washington, D.C., area alone this year from May 23 to July 7 (four of the suspected thieves have since been indicted for mail theft and unlawful possession of USPS keys).
Behind the crime
Sometimes criminals go fishing — not to be confused with “phishing” — a rather old-fashioned (but effective) method in which they’ll attach something sticky to a weighted object tied to a string, drop it into a mail receptacle and reel in their catch.