CHICAGO — We’ve published countless stories about U.S. Postal Service mail carriers being robbed at gunpoint for their master keys in Chicago. On Wednesday, Cook County prosecutors accused a Chicago man of using a stolen mailbox key to steal from a USPS “blue box” in the West Loop. Federal charges are pending.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service said the arrest was made during an overnight surveillance operation involving its investigators and Chicago police officers.
At 3 a.m. Tuesday, investigators watched as Richard Thompson, 51, used a master key to open the blue mailbox on the corner of Racine and Adams, Assistant State’s Attorney Alexander Konetzki said during Thompson’s bail hearing.
Thompson took mail from inside the box and was then detained by a postal worker until Chicago police arrived, according to Konetzki. He said Thompson admitted to having the key and using it to access the box.
For now, Thompson is charged in state court with possession of burglary tools and misdemeanor theft. But that is expected to change once federal authorities approve charges against him, according to postal inspectors.
He has five previous felony convictions, all for narcotics-related violations, Konetzki said. Judge Kelly McCarthy ordered Thompson to pay a $100 bail deposit to be released on electronic monitoring.
In March, another man was charged with possessing two forged postal service master keys, also known as “arrow keys,” during a traffic stop on the North Side. Prosecutors said the man also had a trove of financial information, including W2 forms and checks.
“Never put anything into the postal system unless you are comfortable with it landing in the hands of criminals instead of at its intended destination,” an investigative source advised CWBChicago a few months ago.
“Checks, credit cards, PPP loans, and identity theft are the new hustle in urban America,” another source said.
The problem of mail theft has become so widespread that the US Postal Service itself has advised people not to put mail into its once-ubiquitous blue mailboxes after the last collection time.
Mail thieves might score a valuable package or an envelope containing a birthday gift card from someone’s grandma once in a while. But experts say the real value comes from identity theft and check fraud mills, which use information from stolen mail to steal people’s identities and checks.
Some crews specialize in altering and depositing checks, sometimes multiplying the face value of the note by many times its original amount.
A source said that those teams often operate with the assistance of marginalized people who open checking accounts they do not need.
“The stolen $40 utility payment is changed to $4,000. The halfwit withdraws the money, and the account crashes,” the source explained.
The source said they believe the postal service’s problems are even more significant and widespread than the agency is letting on.
“They’re reluctant to tell the truth to keep consumers buying stamps and keep citizens from using other means of delivery” like UPS or FedEx.