Fort Mill police identify mail-theft suspect, offer advice on avoiding similar incidents

Fort Mill Police are once again asking for the community’s help with mail thefts happening across the town.
Something as simple as paying your bills has become a prime target for thieves to get their hands on your checks to cash for themselves.
Published: Jul. 13, 2022 at 6:20 PM EDT
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FORT MILL, S.C. (WBTV) - Fort Mill Police are once again asking for the community’s help with mail thefts happening across the town.

This time, it says it has a suspect. WBTV first brought you this story almost two months ago, on May 20, when it reported that mail is being stolen straight from the post office’s blue box and other boxes around the Fort Mill area. A man was seen at the blue box right outside the Fort Mill Post Office. Police say he used a stolen master key too unlock that box and steal the mail.

Brenda Caldwell had money in her mail so she went inside to drop it off, but she says when she talked to the person at the desk told her to take it outside.

”She said you can put that in the box,” she explains. “We’re already having problems as it is.”

Those problems Caldwell refers to are stolen checks and money orders from the blue boxes. She heard about people having money stolen from those boxes.

”That’s why we’ve got so much stuff happening because we have people that are really not concerned about your mail,” she says.

Fort Mill PD received reports of people’s checks being cashed for a different amount than they wrote down. The person, or possibly people, are looking to take things that look valuable....things like checks and small packages.

This has been going on for months now. The York County Sheriff’s Office has also been involved because it’s been happening all over the Tega Cay and Fort Mill area. Fort Mill Police say if you have to mail something out, do not put it in a blue box. Instead, walk it into the post office and make sure you hand it to someone working inside.

It is almost impossible to open these blue boxes without some major tools. Unless you have a key. WBTV found that those keys are surprisingly easy to get. They are called arrow keys, or master keys, and they unlock all of the blue boxes and cluster boxes, or boxes at apartment complexes, around a certain area. In this case, Fort Mill. Only mail carriers are supposed to have it.

”Mail theft is a growing problem. It’s at epidemic proportions right now,” says Postal Police Officer Association President Frank Albergo.

Postal Police Officers (PPOs) are trained to protect mail carriers and post offices as well as prevent mail theft. For years, PPOs conducted mail theft prevention patrols as a part of a carrier protection program. The PPOs used mail theft data to target areas where this was happening the most to send the patrols to the right places. These PPOs are highly trained and in most metropolitan areas.

Albergo says getting the arrow keys is almost too easy.

”It’s a major problem. These arrow keys are all over. They give access to mail receptacles all over,” he explains.

Albergo says there are two ways to get these keys. The first is on the street with people attacking carriers for their keys. The Chief Postal Inspector says postal workers reported 7,000 violent crimes including threats, assaults and homicides.

”We no longer can patrol carrier routes so the carriers are out there like sitting ducks,” he says.

The second way is bribery. These keys can also be lost as well. The Office of the Inspector General found arrow key systems are “ineffective” and the number of arrow keys out there is unknown. In a statement, the OIG said “...local units did not adequately report lost, stolen, or broken keys or maintain key inventories. Further, the Postal Service did not restrict the number of replacement arrow keys that could be ordered. Ineffective controls over arrow keys increases the risk that these items will be lost or stolen and not detected.”

”The postal service is working to try to remedy that but just like everything else they’re very slow,” says Albergo.

So what is the solution? Albergo says USPS already has it.

”It’s called the postal police force and the US Postal Service refuses to use their uniformed police force that they pay for. It’s insane,” he exclaims.

Albergo says the force has been severely defunded. It is only working with a third of what it had in 2019. He explained that the force used to have about 2,700 officers on it. Now, that number is down to a little over 350.

Also, a reinterpreted statue forced all officers off the street and tasked them only with protecting the post office buildings. In August 2020, the Postal Service decreased law enforcement jurisdiction confining uniformed officers to only the USPS buildings. The Postal Police Officer Association filed a lawsuit to reverse the decision. The lawsuit was dismissed, but the Court wrote: “Faced with these ambiguities, USPS did not act unreasonably by interpreting the statute to limit PPOs’ law-enforcement jurisdiction to the protection of postal real property or, alternatively, to leave the question of PPOs’ off-premises policing authority to USPS’s discretion.”

”It’s crazy. And this is being done during a mail theft epidemic,” he says.

Albergo says hiring more officers and working on more prevention instead of just investigating thefts after they happen will make a big difference in reducing these crimes. He says the officer aspect of it is very important because local law enforcement is used instead of PPOs. He says local law enforcement does not have the ability to investigate the mail thefts to the fullest like the PPOs do.

”This way we don’t have to arrest people. This way we don’t have to throw them in jail. This way we don’t have to use all these resources,” he explains.

WBTV asked the United States Postal Inspection Service about this. In a statement, it said:

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is engaged on multiple fronts with various partners to combat mail theft and prosecute mail thieves including, but not limited to engaging with our local, county, state and federal law enforcement partners, including the Department of Justice, to address mail theft and crimes involving the U.S. Mail.

As an answer to my question about being proactive as Albergo said, instead of reactive, USPIS had this to say:

We are dedicated to educating the American Public on crime prevention steps they can take to help protect the mail. The Postal Inspection Service promotes mail theft prevention tips on its social media platforms, it’s website (www.uspis.gov), and through community outreach. Customers can take several steps to protect their mail from thieves, including:

· Don’t let incoming or outgoing mail sit in your mailbox. You can significantly reduce the chance of being victimized by simply removing your mail from your mailbox every day.

· Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after delivery, especially if you’re expecting checks, credit cards, or other negotiable items. If you won’t be home when the items are expected, ask a trusted neighbor to pick up yourmail.

· Just as you wouldn’t leave the door to your home unlocked while you’re away, you shouldn’t let mail accumulate in your mailbox. Don’t leave your mail unattended for extended periods. Have your Post Office hold your mail while you’re away. You can do this online atwww.usps.com.

· When expecting a package delivery, track the shipment at www.usps.com. You can sign up for email and text alerts at www.myusps.com.

· If you don’t receive a check or other valuable mail you’re expecting, contact the issuing agency.

· If you change your address, immediately notify your Post Office and anyone with whom you do business via the mail.

· Hand outgoing mail to your letter carrier, or mail it at the Post Office, an official blue USPS collection box on the street, or a secure receptacle at your place of business. If it is deposited into a collection box, be sure to do so BEFORE the final collection time of the day, which is displayed on the box.

· Never send cash or coins in the mail. Use checks or money orders. Ask your bank for “secure” checks that are more difficult to alter.

· If you have concerns about security in your neighborhood, consider installing a lockable mailbox or obtaining PO Box service from your local Post Office.

· Consider starting a neighborhood watch program. By exchanging work and vacation schedules with trusted neighbors, you can watch each other’s mailboxes and residences.

The Postal Inspection Service encourages customers to report stolen mail as soon as possible by submitting an online complaint at www.uspis.gov/report or calling 877-876-2455.

As far as the Fort Mill mail theft, a USPIS spokesperson says the investigation is still ongoing. The spokesperson could not give me information on an active case. USPIS is still using local law enforcement, in this case, Fort Mill Police Department, to help investigate. In another statement, the spokesperson said :

“U.S. Postal Inspectors takes seriously its role to safeguard America and will continue to aggressively pursue perpetrators that use the U.S. Mail system to further their illegal activity. Every day, the U.S. Postal Service safely and efficiently delivers millions of checks, money orders, credit cards and merchandise. Unfortunately, such items are also attractive to thieves and that is why Postal Inspectors across the country are at work to protect your mail.”

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