Woman use forged master keys to burglarize mailrooms across the North Side, prosecutors say

Kalea Blanke and the approximate locations of the burglaries she is accused of committing. | Chicago Police Department; Multiplottr

A Chicago woman is charged with breaking into six apartment and condo buildings, mainly on the North Side, to steal mail using forged U.S. Postal Service master keys.

Prosecutors also charged Kalea Blanke, 33, with identity theft because she was allegedly carrying credit cards in the names of six different people when Chicago cops arrested her.

According to court records, Blanke is charged with burglarizing residential mailrooms in:

  • the 4000 block of North Damen in North Center on May 17, 2022 
  • the 4700 block of North Racine in Uptown on November 12, 2022
  • the 600 block of West Drummond in Lincoln Park on January 24
  • the 4100 block of North Sheridan in Uptown on March 9
  • the 2600 block of North Clybourn in Lincoln Park on March 29
  • the 800 block of South Wells in the Loop on June 22

She’s also accused of prying a card reader machine from the wall of an apartment building laundry room in the 700 block of West Bittersweet on April 14.

Chicago cops who arrested her in a South Side garage last month said they found a postal service master key, also known as an “arrow key,” lying in plain sight. When they searched her, police found five wrenches “filed into what appears to be various stages of arrow keys,” a CPD report said.

Judge William Fahy released her on her own recognizance but ordered her to stay on electronic monitoring.

Mail theft surge

Mail theft by crews using stolen postal service master keys 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.

Armed men have frequently robbed mail carriers of their “arrow keys” in Chicago. Some keys are stolen from the postal service in less violent ways. Some counterfeit keys have also popped up.

Highly organized identity theft and fraud organizations use stolen postal service master keys, called “arrow keys,” to steal large volumes of mail from public mailboxes and residential building mailrooms.

In May, 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.

And 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.

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.

Alex Petik, 35, was charged this spring with burglarizing a mailroom in the 4800 block of North Bell four times. Two days after the last break-in, one of the residents learned that someone was trying to open multiple credit card accounts in their name.

A backpack he was carrying when police arrested him in April allegedly contained a Russian passport, two fake IDs with his photo but other people’s personal information, four credit cards with different names, five checks issued to various businesses and individuals, and 14.2 grams of suspected crystal methamphetamine.

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