CHICAGO — A Northwest Side resident is sharing videos that they say show one of Chicago’s seemingly endless supply of mail thieves in action last Sunday afternoon.
Organized theft, both from residential mailrooms and postal service drop boxes, fuels massive identity theft and check fraud operations.
The problem has grown so large the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) is now offering rewards of $150,000 for information that leads to some arrests. That’s about 150 times the amount the FBI typically offers in bank robberies.
“Man stealing mail in my building (and somehow got the universal mail key used by mail carriers) in Chicago,” @Eeddibb explained in their tweet. Watch:
Eeddibb shared two videos of their mail thief on Thursday afternoon. In less than three hours, the USPIS Chicago office responded: “Retain all video and call the US Postal Inspection Service hotline to file a report. The phone number for our hotline is 877–876–2455.”
How do mail thieves get postal service master keys? Increasingly, they are being taken at gunpoint from mail carriers. Info leading postal inspectors to the robbers could net you one of those six-figure rewards.
Masters, also called “arrow keys,” are also stolen by postal service employees. Some thieves use crude copies of real masters.
The robbers are just one cog in the enormous mail theft machine.
After keys are secured, they are given to another piece of the machine, so-called “joggers,” who use the masters to steal mail from large residential buildings and those big, blue public mailboxes seen on street corners.
One jogger who stole mail 14 times from a single Lakeview apartment building recently received a five-year prison sentence.
The joggers usually turn the mail over to another part of the operation. There, forgers alter the details and values of stolen checks, sometimes multiplying the face value of the note by many times its original amount. Then, the checks are cashed, sometimes by paying low-income intermediaries to deposit them in their personal bank accounts. Of course, the middleman will eventually be on the hook for the loss.
Identifying information recovered from pieces of mail is used to steal identities that scammers use to open credit cards and bank accounts.
In March, a Chicago man was charged with possessing two forged postal service master 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 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.
The mail theft problem has become so widespread that the US Postal Service has advised people not to put mail in public mailboxes after the last collection time. Too many thieves have stolen master keys, so the boxes are no longer secure.