Fri. Jun 14th, 2024

A mail theft epidemic? Stolen checks are only the beginning, researcher says

October 24, 2022
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This is what’s happening: Criminals are targeting mail carriers specifically for what’s called arrow keys. These keys typically unlock multiple blue drop boxes and other collection boxes throughout a community. Around 3 or 4 a.m., someone will open those boxes and take the mail. Sometimes, they leave enough mail behind to avoid tipping off the post office.

Once the criminals get the mail, it’s often taken to cheap hotels to sort through. Those involved will pay people addicted to drugs to search through the mail for checks and credit cards, according to a researcher who studies mail theft. The checks are then washed so new amounts of money and new recipients can be written on them. Those checks are then sold online.

And that might only be the beginning.

David Maimon is a professor at Georgia State University. He researches cybercrimes and has been studying mail theft for several years. As he spoke to The Enquirer, a newly stolen mail key from Ohio was posted for sale on one of the websites Maimon monitors. These keys can go for anywhere from $1,000 to $7,000, depending on how many boxes they open. Maimon said when his team first started researching mail theft they saw about 100 checks a week sold online.

Now, they see 2,000 a week.

“Whatever USPS is doing, it isn’t working,” Maimon said.

Stolen checks are only the beginning, he said. In some places, criminals are using checks and informants from banks to access information used to steal identities. The post office has also begun investigating employees who may have accepted money to sell or loan their mail keys.

At first, Maimon believed the rise in mail thefts came from kids and young adults who were bored during the pandemic. His research revealed much more complex criminal organizations than you might realize.

“People don’t understand the magnitude of what we’re seeing,” Maimon said. “It’s a nightmare.”

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