An Action News Jax investigation found there is an increasing number of attacks on postal carriers delivering mail. The thieves are after a universal Arrow key that opens all locked blue mail drop boxes and residential mailboxes. And their goal is to steal your checks and private information and sell it.
In Florida, there have been at least 105 physical assaults on mail carriers and at least 50 robberies, 2019-2022.
Including an armed robbery last June in Jacksonville where the culprit pointed a loaded handgun at the mail carrier's chest.
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This is how he described it on the officer's body cam footage, "He was like, 'Do you have an arrow key on you?' First, I act like I don't know what he was talking about. And then he has a gun right here like inside the hoodie. And then he kind of like flashed it a little bit and he said, 'Do you have an arrow key on you?' And then he took it out and charged it. And I say, 'Yes'. And he say, 'Give it to me now. Give it to me now."
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The Post Office is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
THE ARROW KEY
The Arrow key is a universal key that opens blue collection boxes, outdoor parcel lockers, cluster box units and apartment panels. All places where hundreds of pieces of mail can be in one place.
In December, a Jacksonville man was walking his dog when he saw two thieves taking mail from his neighborhood's cluster of mailboxes. "When I was walking by, they were loading the crate into the trunk," he added, "They had backed their car up to the other cluster of boxes."
"Thieves are stealing the mail, stealing personal identifying, identifying information. They are washing checks," said Frank Albergo, President of the Postal Union.
He blames the spike in attacks on a change in policy in 2020. The Postal Police used to patrol alongside the carriers, now they only guard the facilities. "And since then, mail theft has exploded," said Albergo.
Jim McGee owns his own construction company and that means he writes a lot of checks. He used to mail them in a blue box outside his local post office.
But federal prosecutors say thieves broke into it, stealing 25 of his checks- totaling $138,000. The arrow key used to open the box was stolen in 2020 when the thief robbed a mail carrier.
"For a small business, right, to have that much money disappear. That was a big deal to us," said McGee. McGee said it took a lot of time and energy to clear up the mess the stolen checks made. The whole experience forced him to change the way he does business. "We don't do any hard checks anymore. There are zero hard checks. We have to pay a third-party to cut all our checks so that they're responsible for it."
THE CRIME IS NATIONWIDE
Action News Jax Investigates sorted through federal records and found from January 2019 - June 2022, 3,114 attacks on mail carriers occurred nationwide, with at least 170 arrow keys stolen, 67 of those key thefts were just in the first half of 2022, blowing past the total taken in 2021.
"Nowadays, it's like they have a target on their back. I mean, it's just a very easy crime. The inspection service is doing very little to stop it," said Albergo.
"We've had carriers hurt and threatened to be hurt," said Postal Inspector Rick Johnston. He said of all the crimes investigated by his agency, this is a top priority. "We deliver to 150 million addresses per day. My agency isn't nearly big enough if we were to investigate also and watch the mail carriers at the same time, so we have to prioritize."
Our investigation also found the number of stolen keys is grossly underreported. An audit report from 2020 criticized the postal service's arrow key management as "ineffective". Adding "the number of arrow keys in circulation is unknown" and post offices "did not adequately report lost, stolen, or broken keys or maintain key inventories."
Albergo said, "It's gotten to the point where sooner or later everyone's going to be affected."
Four in ten consumers say their personal information has been stolen, compromised, or misused in the past year according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nationally recognized nonprofit organization.
Here are some ways to protect yourself:
If you've experience identity fraud, put a freeze on your credit and report the fraud to the federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov.
Pick up mail quickly. Don't leave it in the mailbox a long time. If you can't, use USPS's hold service.
Drop mail in blue boxes close to pick up times. Better yet, drop off mail inside the post office directly if you're worried.
Don't send cash in the mail.
If you move, make sure everyone important has your new address.
Use gel pens to write checks. They are harder to erase, especially the uni-ball 207. You can get them almost everywhere They cost about $2 each.
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Click here for more tips. If you think someone stole your mail, report it by clicking here or by calling the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455.
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