“Basically, the entire U.S. Postal Service is riddled with fraud.”
That’s what a law enforcement source told us in December 2020 after a string of people were accused of clearing out banks of Chicago apartment building mailboxes by using stolen and counterfeit postal service master keys.
The source said that mail thieves are “part of a larger operation that uses stolen mail to open checking accounts and launder stolen checks,” among other crimes.
Now, nearly two years later, the fraud seems to be more widespread and deeply entrenched in Chicago.
In the past few days, Chicago police warned that armed robbers were taking postal keys from mail couriers at gunpoint. This morning, the Sun-Times reported a growing wave of check fraud based on mail theft.
And a CWBChicago reader recently crossed paths in his Lincoln Park condo building’s mail room with a pot-scented man who had a postal service master key and wore USPS uniform parts. But, if he was making a delivery, why did he walk in with an empty bag instead of something to deliver?
The reader said he encountered the suspicious man around 8 p.m. on a recent Tuesday night.
He said the man used a postal service master key to access the building.
“I walked in the mail lobby at exactly the same time, and he ended up walking out shortly after without an incident,” the reader said. “He was trying to play it off like he was looking to place mail in one of our boxes … walked in with an empty bag, wearing a USPS jacket, COVID mask, red and black hat, reeked of weed.”
Over the weekend, Chicago police warned that five postal carriers had been robbed at gunpoint of their key rings while working routes on the West Side since mid-August.
The local postal workers’ union president told the Sun-Times that some members were thinking about not going out on their routes because their work had become too dangerous.
On Saturday, three men wearing ski masks confronted another man in the 1400 block of West Superior and took his building’s mailbox master keys, according to a CPD report.
Stolen mail is used in a variety of ways, including identity theft.
In one tricky scheme known as “check washing,” criminals use common chemicals to erase ink on stolen checks, then write the check for a large sum.
The fraudulent checks are then either cashed or sold online.
According to the Sun-Times, more than 17,000 check fraud cases have been reported this year in Illinois, up from 13,000 for all of last year.