From identity theft to check washing, the mail theft problem is troubling. A months-long KPRC 2 Investigation uncovered an enterprise where organized thieves are selling stolen checks and mailbox keys for thousands of dollars online. We are looking at how thieves are doing it, where it’s the worst and why what’s being done to keep communities safe.
Checks stolen, washed, and cashed
KPRC2 Investigates has introduced you to victims who have had checks stolen out of mailboxes. The checks were then washed, rewritten, made out to strangers, and cashed for thousands more. But we’ve learned what’s happening now is much bigger.
“It’s happening everywhere, but Texas, New York, California, Ohio, and Florida are by far the worst,” said Frank Albergo, Postal Police Association President.
Forget the one-off thefts where thieves go box to box to steal mail; Albergo said the mail thefts happening now are volume attacks.
“Hundreds of victims in one volume attack. It’s a serious problem,” explains Albergo.
Mail carriers robbed
Thieves are robbing mail carriers at gunpoint all over the country. We obtained Ring doorbell video of a mailman in East Houston asking homeowners to call police seconds after he was robbed on his route. Thieves want the mail, but they’re also after arrow keys.
“An arrow key can give access to all the mail in a zip code,” said Albergo.
One arrow key can open hundreds of mailboxes and blue postal service boxes.
It’s not just mail being stolen
Just last week deputies arrested two people in a traffic stop on the Sam Houston Tollway on the Eastside. Cops say they found cocaine, marijuana, 120 pieces of mail, and a United States Postal Service (USPS) master key. Albergo said when carriers are robbed of the keys the postal service knows which zip code is at risk but they don’t share that information with people who live there.
“Not only do they not notify people, they downplay the problem,” he said.
We’ve learned crooks are selling the keys online for up to a thousand dollars. They also buy and sell checks from stolen mail in messaging apps like Telegram and What’s App.
We found one picture online showing five checks for sale. Four of them were dropped in a West Houston mailbox just days earlier. We called the owners to let them know their checks and their bank accounts were exposed.
Jeremy Lord rushed to his bank to cancel the check he had written to his insurance company.
“I was in a panic,” said Lord. “The bank did recommend that I close the account immediately and also be very careful about writing checks moving forward.”
Increase in mail theft complaints and robberies
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service does admit it’s seeing an increase in mail theft complaints and robberies of U.S. Postal Service employees that started during the pandemic. That was the same time the agency benched its entire postal police force with an August 2020 advisory limiting their jurisdiction to protecting postal service premises only.
“And since then, mail theft has absolutely exploded. I mean, obviously, there’s a correlation,” said Albergo.
“I’m just like an HPD officer, but I’m federal police,” said Landy Leighton.
Landy Leighton is a postal police association member. He carries a badge, a gun, and handcuffs and has served in Houston since 2010; but he says sitting on the sidelines watching mail theft surge makes him feel useless.
After 50 years of protecting mail carriers in high-risk areas and deterring crime in marked vehicles, US Postal Police are no longer allowed to protect the mail unless the crime occurs at a post office or a distribution center.
“So if we’re not out there to see it, deter it, prevent it, obviously, you’re gonna get what we have now- which is a spike in all that,” Leighton told Davis.
Mail theft by zip codes
No one from the postal service would talk with us on camera but when we asked for all reported cases of mail theft in the Greater Houston area they gave us some information. In 2021 the postal service received 8,461 complaints of mail theft here.
The most recent reports came from zip codes in the Katy/Cinco Ranch area. Other specific high complaint areas include Cypress - mostly south of 290 and both sides of 99, Katy - north of I-10, west of Highway 99. But no matter where you live the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your money is never put a check in the mail.
“It’s similar to McDonald’s saying ‘don’t eat hamburgers,’ I mean that’s literally what’s happening,” said Albergo. “We’re literally telling people, ‘don’t mail anything in a blue collection box.’ The postal service brand has been destroyed. And they’re allowing it to happen. They have the police force, it’s called the postal police force. They should use it.”
There is an act that congress could pass to restore jurisdictional authority to postal police. And before then there is a labor arbitration scheduled for next month where this issue will also come up. We will stay on top of this for you and let you know what happens.
What to do if you suspect you are a victim of mail theft
If you suspect you have been a victim of mail theft there is a list of agencies you need to report it to.
- Contact USPS. The USPS says losses are charted by the Postal Inspection Service to identify problem areas and assist Inspectors in tracking down thieves. Report suspected mail losses to Postal Inspectors by calling 877-876-2455 or at www.uspis.gov.
- Let law enforcement know. You should also contact the police department in your city and file a police report and you could also contact the District Attorney’s office.
- Alert financial institutions. Depending on what you think was stolen, you should alert your bank and credit reports about the theft.