USPS stepping up plans to curb uptick in mail theft, letter carrier robberies

USPS is hardening the security of its blue collection boxes following repeated calls for action from Congress.

The Postal Service and its law enforcement division are stepping up plans to curb mail theft and stop criminals from robbing letter carriers on their routes.

USPS and its Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) announced Friday they’re phasing out tens of thousands of “arrow” locks on mail receptacles across the country.

The agency has begun installing 49,000 electronic locks on blue collection boxes in several cities, and will soon expand this effort to other cities.

Criminals are robbing letter carriers for their arrow keys, which are used to steal mail and packages, as well as commit financial crimes — including altering checks and committing check fraud.

More than 400 on-duty letter carriers were robbed in fiscal 2022. USPS said another 300 letter carriers have been robbed on their routes so far in fiscal 2023.

USPS is also reporting an increase in thefts from blue collection boxes. The agency saw more than 38,500 incidents in FY 2022. Halfway through this fiscal year, USPS reports 25,000 blue collection box thefts.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said in a statement Friday that every USPS employee “deserves to work in safety and to be free from targeting by criminals seeking to access the public’s mail.”

“As crime rises, so do the threats against our public servants,” DeJoy said.

USPS is also ramping up arrow key accountability reviews in areas dealing with a high rate of postal crime.

The USPS inspector general’s office, in a 2020 report, found agency efforts to keep track of arrow keys were ineffective.

The IG report found the number of arrow keys in circulation is unknown, and local USPS management did not adequately report lost, stolen, or broken arrow keys or maintain key inventories.

USPS is making its blue collection boxes a harder target for criminals following repeated calls for action from Congress, postal unions and associations, and members of the USPS Board of Governors.

USPS and the Postal Inspection Service briefed lawmakers Thursday on its plans to address rising postal crime.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called on USPS last month to reinstitute local area crime alerts for its employees.

“Knowledge of criminal activity in the vicinity can in some instances help letter carriers to avoid dangerous situations, including robberies,” Durbin said.

Durbin also asked the Justice Department to hold armed robbers “accountable for their criminal activity.” Assaulting a letter carrier carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

Attorneys representing Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) claimed in a letter last November that USPS employees or contractors stole nearly $20,000 in campaign contributions sent in the mail.

The letter to USPS said the thefts exposed hundreds of Stefanik’s campaign supporters “to potential identity theft or financial fraud.”

USPS Governor Ron Stroman, a former deputy postmaster general, urged the agency to address a “dramatic escalation” in letter carrier robberies and a rise in mail theft.

“These trends continued over the recent holiday season and are now almost a daily occurrence,” Stroman said at a February meeting of the USPS Board of Governors.

Stroman said in February that USPS was partnering with USPIS to harden the security of mail receptacles and is looking to replace arrow keys with a new “arrow-less system.”

USPS also stepping up efforts to harden the security of its blue collection boxes. The agency plans to roll out 12,000 high-security blue collection boxes in high-risk areas nationwide through fiscal 2024.

The agency said in its announcement Friday that it will “continue to evaluate” plans to replace blue collection boxes with new high-security versions.

“We’re doubling down on our efforts to protect our postal employees and the security of the mail. We are hardening targets — both physical and digital — to make them less desirable to thieves and working with our law enforcement partners to bring perpetrators to justice,” USPIS Chief Gary Barksdale said in a statement.

USPS is also stepping up identity verification efforts to prevent change-of-address fraud.

The agency expects these upcoming changes will prevent fraudsters from diverting mail from their intended recipients, and intercepting mail, credit cards and checks.

The USPS inspector general’s office reported last month there were more than 23,000 cases of online change-of-address fraud and attempted identity theft in 2021 — a 167% increase compared to the previous year.

USPS processed more than 33 million change of address transactions in FY 2022.

Last month, USPS implemented “dual authentication” identity verification for online change of address requests and has provided enhanced security controls to reduce fraud.

Starting May 31, post offices will offer an “enhanced” in-person change of address service, and will require customers requesting the service to present a government ID.

USPS customers requesting a change of address will now receive a validation letter at their old address, and receive an activation letter at their new address.

USPS, as part of these changes, will no longer accept third-party change of address submissions.

USPS is also cracking down on counterfeit postage. The agency introduced a proposed rule in February that would allow the agency to open and dispose of mail and packages shipped with counterfeit postage.

USPS, under the proposed rule, will consider mail and packages “abandoned” if shipped with counterfeit postage.

However, the agency will return items to the sender if they use an insufficient amount of legitimate postage to send mail or packages.

USPS and USPIS seized 340,000 packages with counterfeit postage and more than 7.7 million counterfeit stamps.

The USPS announcement, however, makes no mention of any change in the role or function of its postal police officers.

The Postal Police Officers Association filed a federal lawsuit in March, calling on USPS to comply with a third-party arbitrator’s recent decision to throw out an August 2020 memo, which limited postal police to only carry out their duties on USPS property.

The memo has prohibited postal police officers from protecting mail and USPS employees, or carrying out other law-enforcement activity, anywhere other than on USPS property.

USPS and the PPOA have been locked in a protracted legal battle for years to determine what jurisdiction postal police officers have beyond USPS facilities.

Frank Albergo, national president of the Postal Police Officers Association, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s subcommittee on government operations last September that postal police staffing has shrunk by approximately 65% since 2002.

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