ATLANTA — A Channel 2 Action News investigation has exclusively uncovered disturbing numbers of attacks on mail carriers across Georgia.
The victims in these robberies are not just mail carriers -- it’s you.
What the thieves are really after is people’s personal identities. They’re using master keys and targeting group mailboxes in order to commit identity theft on a massive scale.
Surveillance video from a Douglas County Sheriff’s Office investigation shows how a crew of thieves clearly ripped open the front of a so-called cluster mailbox, containing mail for dozens of homes.
“Whatever they could carry, they would take with them,” said Chuck Catlin with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
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Sheriff’s investigators told Channel 2 consumer investigator Justin Gray the same crew hit multiple mailboxes multiple times and allegedly had an operation creating new drivers’ licenses, passports and new credit cards with identities they stole.
“This is not a process that they came up with on their own,” Catlin said.
What if instead of that crowbar, you had the key and could sneak in and out unsuspected? That is exactly what’s happening across Georgia and nationwide with theft of what are called arrow keys. They are master keys to many mailboxes.
“Everyone knows they’re after the arrow keys,” said Frank Albergo with the Postal Police Officers Association.
Albergo said thieves specifically look for the keys when they attack or rob mail carriers.
Channel 2 Action News filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain data on mail carrier attacks and found that between January 2019 and July 2022, there have been 232 attacks on postal carriers just in the Atlanta division.
“It’s at epidemic proportions. It’s it has spiraled out of control,” Albergo said.
Albergo is also the president of the postal police union. He said in 2020, a postal service policy change now prevents postal police form patrolling carrier routes.
“So we’re confined to postal facilities in the middle of a mail theft epidemic,” Albergo told Gray. “Since then, mail theft has exploded.”
That doesn’t just put postal employee safety at risk.
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As we first reported in an exclusive Channel 2 Action News investigation in September, your personal information, your identity, is what those thieves are really after. Gray exposed checks stolen from blue mailboxes for sale on the dark web. DeKalb County resident Gloria Daniel had no idea that had happened to her water bill check until Gray knocked on her door.
“Yep, that’s my check,” she told Gray as he pointed it out to her.
Critics said part of the problem is a postal service policy created in 2018 stating any new subdivisions or developments must have cluster boxes instead of individual mailboxes.
“Obviously, when a letter carrier doesn’t have to walk from house to house and there’s a consolidated delivery point, it saves money, but it also invites more crime,” Albergo said.
“It makes it easier because they’re all in one,” Catlin said.
Georgia State University criminologist David Maimon first showed Gray the thousands of checks a month for sale on the dark web. He has now crunched the same postal carrier attack data we did and found a correlation.
“There is a high association between the volume of attacks in specific location and the number of checks that came from that specific location,” Maimon said.
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The Postal Service would not answer our questions about safety concerns with arrow keys and cluster boxes, but instead sent Gray an email touting the efficiency of cluster boxes. The postal inspection service maintains this comes down to resources.
“Well, we deliver to 150 million addresses per day. My agency isn’t nearly big enough if we went to investigate also and watch the mail carriers at the same time, so we have to prioritize,” said Rick Johnsten with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
But Albergo counters that the trained law enforcement officers who are best equipped to help are being ordered to stand down.
“(I)t’s an easy crime to prevent. It’s called postal police officers. I mean, can we stop it completely, no? Can we stop it from escalating in a given area? 100%, yes,” Albergo said.
Channel 2 Action News is not the only ones asking these questions. Congress is concerned, too. On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown sent a letter to the Postmaster General demanding the Postal Service restore patrolling duties to postal police.
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