Thursday, October 21, 2021

Signed, sealed, delivered -- seven months late -- Oct. 21, 2021 column


An “OFFICIAL BUSINESS” brown envelope from the United States Postal Inspection Service arrived in the mail the other day.

“Dear Postal Customer: The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has recovered stolen mail bearing your name and address. The suspect(s) were identified and prosecuted,” the letter inside said.

“It was determined he/she is not a postal employee and is not affiliated with the Postal Service in any way. The original mail is being returned to you in the condition in which it was recovered.”

With the letter was a sympathy card addressed to me about my dad, who died in February. The card was postmarked Feb. 26 in Lubbock, Texas. The envelope had been sliced open, but the card was intact.

I was amazed, and grateful, postal inspectors had gone to the trouble to deliver a condolence card after seven months.

The inspection service is the U.S. Postal Service’s law enforcement arm and the first federal law enforcement agency. Ben Franklin appointed the first of what would become postal inspectors in 1775.

Today the postal service has many problems, largely stemming from bad management at the top, so it’s a pleasant surprise when something goes right.

Mail theft may seem like a crime out of the 19th century Wild West, when robbers on horseback stopped stagecoaches and made off with gold, cash and bank transfers.

In 2021, perps see opportunity in greeting cards and business envelopes for cash, checks, money orders or gift cards. None that was in the card to me, which contained only kind words.

The inspection service’s letter included a case number, and I searched online to no avail. But I did find many news stories about people around the country being charged with mail theft. One report caught my eye.

A man, 22, and woman, 35, were indicted Oct. 15 in Lubbock and charged with conspiracy to possess stolen mail and possessing stolen mail.

The two, who worked for a contractor that loads USPS mail on and off planes at the airport, allegedly looked through the mail while on the job Feb. 25 and 26 and stole eight checks totaling more than $2.3 million. Two were corporate checks, one for $2 million and another for about $242,000, news reports said.

I don’t know if the duo also happened upon the card addressed to me in Virginia on Feb. 26.

Most postal workers are dedicated and honest, although there are bad apples. One postal worker in Lubbock charged with mail theft admitted he stole mail every day he was on the job for four months last year.

Many, if not most, mail theft cases in the news are outside jobs. In Mount Jackson, Va., a man was charged Oct. 5 with 28 counts of identity theft to defraud less than $1,000, 12 counts of financial fraud and other crimes.

He allegedly stole people’s mail and used their personal information to open several accounts and credit cards in their names.

That wasn’t the extent of his troubles with the law. After the local sheriff and police officers went to his home, the man was also charged with 10 counts of animal cruelty and five counts of inadequate care by owner, The Northern Virginia Daily reported.

Nearly everyone has a story to tell about mail delayed or lost. The inspection service received about 300,000 mail theft complaints in the year that ended in February – and could investigate only a fraction of those cases.

Its 1,300 inspectors and 500 uniformed police officers around the country have responsibility for investigating about 200 federal crimes besides mail theft.

They protect postal workers, intercept illegal narcotics and hazardous materials sent through the mail, and investigate cybercrimes, consumer fraud and scams against veterans and the elderly, among other things. The inspection service also investigates COVID-19 scams and makes sure pandemic relief checks reach their rightful destinations.

To keep mail safe: retrieve mail promptly; deposit mail inside the post office, in blue collection boxes before the last collection of the day or hand it to a mail carrier; and never send cash. Learn more

It’s not the Wild West, but some things don’t change. We’re all potential victims of mail theft, and postal inspectors can’t catch all the criminals.

©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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