ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — For weeks now, we've been telling you about the issue of stolen checks from blue USPS drop boxes.
A viewer first alerted 5 On Your Side about the problem after her check was intercepted and cashed for thousands of dollars. It turns out this postal problem is part of a massive check fraud scheme across the country.
The next time you drop off a check in a blue USPS drop box, know that it could end up in the hands of brazen criminals determined to steal and sell your private information.
It’s the job of Associate Professor David Maimon from Georgia State University to find trends in online crime and track them.
"We see all kinds of crime that folks are working on and once we see a trend coming up we try to alert everyone about that,” said Professor Maimon.
He does this with his graduate students through the Evidence-Based Cyber Security Research Group.
Maimon said his team monitors about 60 markets and noticed the spike in stolen checks in August 2021. They’ve since uncovered dozens of videos and pictures from underground sites posted by criminal gangs.
In short, they use stolen arrow keys to open drop boxes to clean out the mail inside. Maimon said these criminals rob the mail carriers of their keys. They then either use them themselves or sell them for thousands of dollars.
5 On Your Side has not been able to confirm these robberies of arrow keys, but police from Richmond Heights, Brentwood and Creve Coeur have all said they are investigating multiple cases of stolen checks in partnership with the Postal Inspector Service.
Clayton is the latest location investigating potential mail thefts. The police department shared this advisory to residents Wednesday:
"The Clayton Police Department is aware of citizen complaints regarding potential mail theft within our community. We will continue to work closely with the United States Postal Inspection Service on any investigations relative to such complaints. Out of an abundance of caution, we recommend that residents drop off any outgoing mail with clerks within their local post offices. If any residents believe they are victims of mail theft, they can contact U.S. Postal Inspectors at 877-876-2455, and select Option 3."
Maimon said the concerns go beyond thieves cashing checks.
"What these guys have once they have the checks is they have the identity of the victim and they can continue using the identity for printing fake drivers licenses, passports and they have the bank account details,” Maimon explained.
Still, people continue to use these drop boxes to mail checks, in part, Maimon said, because the crime isn't getting the attention it deserves.
"I’m surprised with the fact that we haven't received a whole lot of attention from law enforcement and the government. Every now and then we get a phone call, but unfortunately, I can't say that there is a huge interest in these findings at this point," Maimon said.
Maimon estimates between $11-30 million is being lost to this type of crime and that "this is just the tip of the iceberg."
USPS declined an interview but said in a statement:
“The Postal Inspection Service and the United States Postal Service take the security of mail very seriously. We are aware of these issues and are currently investigating and implementing additional innovative methods to safeguard the mail. USPS and police both recommend you not use the blue drop boxes for any sensitive mail and instead walk it inside."
The statement goes on to say:
“If a Postal customer does fall victim to mail theft, or identity theft as a result of mail theft, they should immediately file a report with local law enforcement, file a report with the Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455, and closely monitor their financial accounts and credit profiles to get ahead of any fraudulent activity."
The statement is signed by USPS Strategic Communications official Mark Inglett.