Thieves targeting checks attack mail carriers in record numbers

TAMPA, Fla — The men and women who deliver the mail face a growing threat. In fact, between 2018 and 2021, attacks on mail carriers tripled, according to data the ABC Action News I-Team obtained.

In the Tampa Bay area, three mail carriers were robbed over the summer. In one case, a St. Petersburg mailman called 911 and said the robber pulled a gun on him.

“He had on a ski mask, and all I could see was his eyes,” the victim told the dispatcher.

The numbers paint an even more harrowing picture for postal carriers. Nationwide, more than 2,000 attacks/assaults or robberies have been committed against postal carriers between January 2020 and March 2022.

About 100 of the incidents took place in Florida.

The thieves are stealing the mail and the carrier’s keys that unlock mass mailbox clusters like the kind found in condos and apartment complexes. They’re looking for checks to alter, deposit, and in some cases, sell on the dark web.

From March 2020 through February 2021, the postal inspection service received 299,020 mail theft complaints.

Thieves delivering assaults and robberies to mail carriers in record numbers

Tampa police said they’re fielding reports almost daily involving stolen, forged, and cashed checks. An undercover detective told the ABC Action News I-Team that she’d worked 40 of the cases in the last few months.

One of those cases included $125,000 worth of checks belonging to one Tampa business that were stolen out of the mail. The victim in the case, Adam Sutton, was expecting payments to his business, RNR Tire Express, from out-of-state vendors.

“At some point, we realize we are missing over 100K in checks,” Sutton said.

Tampa police arrested a suspect in the case at a local bank. They said in this case, the suspect added their name to the business’s state registration and then opened a bank account in the company name.

The woman arrested is accused of depositing the check into that account and attempting to make withdrawals.

Police find most victims did not put the mail in their personal mailbox but used a blue box or the outgoing mailbox in the office or apartment complex where they live or work.

Thieves delivering assaults and robberies to mail carriers in record numbers

Experts said when it comes to the mail, follow these simple rules.

  • Hand outgoing mail to your letter carrier, or mail it at the post office
  • If you use the blue box outside, do so before the last daily pick up
  • Keep an eye out for your letter carrier; call 911 if you see anything suspicious

While one group of law enforcement works on the issues with the postal workers, others are trying to deal with the explosion of stolen checks on the dark web.

“It is not a group of adolescents stealing your mail. We’re talking about organized crime groups,” said Georgia State University Professor David Maimon, a cybercrime researcher.

For the past two years, Maimon and his team have monitored dozens of dark web channels that sell stolen checks and keys to the big blue mailboxes.

“The increase in the volume of stolen checks is dramatic,” Maimon said.

In 2021, Maimon’s group found an average of 1,000 stolen checks for sale on the dark web. In 2022, that number more than tripled.

The U.S. Postal Inspector’s office recently arrested suspects for robberies in Brandon and Riverview. The agency has offered a reward of up to $50,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of suspects in the St. Pete attack and another earlier this year in Orlando.

While there is a postal police force, in 2020, the Postal Inspection Service stopped it from guarding carriers on their routes. The force now only protects postal properties.

Tampa Postal Inspector Damien Kraebel said solving robberies is a top priority for the inspection service. He said they increased safety messaging to carriers in areas that have been targeted by robbers.

“We have an ongoing campaign to educate letter carriers about all sorts of job safety,” Inspector Kraebel said.

The surge in theft and robberies has caught the attention of a congressional oversight committee. That committee has asked for an independent audit into the way the postal police officers are used, which could lead to change in the Postal Inspection Services’ efforts to reduce crime.