US mail theft often begins with a stolen key

One arrow key can open many mailboxes in a delivery area. They’re so valuable that it’s against federal law for an unauthorized person to be in possession of one. But that hasn’t prevented a nationwide wave of robberies involving arrow keys.

A Scripps News investigation found an increasing number of letter carriers being targeted by criminals on the hunt for arrow keys. In 2021, 132 arrow keys were snatched away from mail carriers. By 2023, that number had more than tripled to 418, according to numbers we obtained from the Postal Inspection Service after filing a public records request.

Full story: US mail theft often begins with a stolen key

7 Replies to “US mail theft often begins with a stolen key”

  1. The universal “arrow” keys that are being stolen at high rates are an indicator of an archaic system. Almost everything in our world has been moved online to some degree, and yet with one key, you could theoretically steal from all the mailboxes in a certain region; these keys are also being sold for anywhere between $1,000 and $7,000 on black market forums. On one hand, the USPS has already replaced around 28,000 arrow keys with more safe and secure drop-off boxes, with Congress even considering a $1.4 billion bill to continue that making replacements. However, much of the country is still operating with these arrow keys as the primary method, and I’m curious what we can do to make letter carriers feel more safe? Would that involve more surveillance cameras on trucks or around mailboxes, or potentially giving carriers some sort of self-defense measure? I feel as though this would only add to liability for the postal service though; they don’t want their employees getting hurt or killed trying to fend off an armed robber. Outside of the measures already being taken, what more can be done?

    1. The problem of frequently stolen universal “arrow” keys draws attention to structural weaknesses in our postal infrastructure. It’s clear that outdated techniques like mailbox keys need to be updated immediately in order to improve security and safeguard postal employees as more services go online. Even if initiatives like changing out locks and looking into new mailbox designs are in motion, more needs to be done to protect letter carriers. Installing cameras in key locations to improve surveillance may serve as a deterrence and help identify criminals. The risk of key theft may also be reduced by putting cutting-edge technologies into place, such as biometric verification or secure lockboxes with special access codes. Providing letter carriers with safety training specific to their daily routes or non-lethal self-defense gear could further boost their sense of security and confidence. It is imperative to strike a balance between these safeguards and the prevention of heightened danger or liability for postal workers. Developing comprehensive plans that balance security and practicality requires cooperation between law enforcement, technological specialists, and lawmakers. In the end, overcoming these obstacles calls for an all-encompassing strategy that protects the integrity of mail delivery services, postal workers’ wellbeing, and evolving threats.

    2. While replacement of outdated drop-off boxes is a step in the right direction, additional measured are definitely needed to make sure that the safety of postal workers and the security of the mail is in tact. Maybe looking into technology integration where we implement smart locks or electronic tracking systems on drop off boxes, letting us track thefts and possibly giving us an insight to theft patterns. Maybe even engaging communities around the country and encouraging people to report suspicious activity around mailboxes…but even that has a good number of reasons on why it wouldn’t work. The reality is we can find a lot of ways to secure our mailing services, but as long as criminals are willing to do whatever to steal mail, we’re always going to be looking for the next solution.

  2. How concerning is the surge in theft targeting postal service workers solely for their arrow keys, with incidents skyrocketing from 132 in 2021 to 418 in 2023? As these keys are crucial for delivering mail, their theft raises alarms about the security of people’s mail. With only the keys being stolen, questions arise regarding the safety of mail, whether it’s packages or sensitive documents like income tax returns. This situation prompts inquiries into the safety measures surrounding postal arrow keys and what actions the postal services should take to address this issue. Additionally, it begs the question of what steps individuals can take to safeguard their mail from potential unauthorized access.

  3. The sharp increase in theft directed at postal workers specifically for their arrow keys, with incidents rising significantly from 132 in 2021 to 418 in 2023 is concerning. Given the indispensable role these keys play in the delivery process, their theft raises concerns regarding the security of people’s mail. With only the keys being targeted, uncertainties arise regarding the safety of various mail items, including packages and sensitive documents. This situation prompts inquiries into the safety protocols surrounding postal arrow keys and the necessary actions that postal services should undertake to tackle this issue. It also prompts consideration of the steps individuals can take to protect their mail.

    1. I wonder if there has been a rise in identity theft compared to the increase in mail theft. This is a concerning issue as well as a complicated one. Would it be easier to move mail services online?

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