CHICAGO — Postal investigators are offering a reward of up to $50,000 for information that leads them to the arrests and convictions of a group of men who robbed a mail carrier in Chicago last month.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service said the five men were armed when they robbed the letter carrier in the 1000 block of North Hamlin around 3:11 p.m. on May 19. The agency said the crew escaped in a silver Jeep or Ford SUV after the robbery.
A photo of two of the men accompanied the reward announcement. The group consisted of five Black men in their late teens or early 20s, according to the reward offer. The group wore black masks and black hoodies during the robbery.
Tips can be shared with postal inspectors at 877-876-2455 regarding case number 4043101. The agency said all information provided to it will be kept confidential.
While the reward bulletin does not say what the men took from the mail carrier, armed robbers have been targeting postal workers for their master keys. Highly organized identity theft and fraud organizations use the stolen keys, called “arrow keys,” to steal large volumes of mail from public mailboxes and residential building mailrooms.
Last month, a joint operation involving postal inspectors and Chicago police netted an arrest after investigators allegedly saw a man use an arrow key to steal mail from one of the postal service’s ubiquitous blue mailboxes in the West Loop.
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.
And prosecutors charged another man in February with burglarizing the mailroom of a single Lakeview apartment building 14 times in nine weeks. Patrick Slagel allegedly admitted to being a “jogger,” the slang term for people who collect bulk mail in theft scams, and to using postal service master keys that were either provided by relatives of USPS employees or were bought or stolen.
“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 mail theft problem has become so widespread that the U.S. Postal Service has advised people not to put mail into its blue mailboxes after the last collection time.
Mail thieves might occasionally score a valuable package or an envelope containing a birthday gift card from someone’s grandma. 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.