Safeguarding the Mail

In an average year, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service:

Americans have an almost sacred expectation when it comes to their daily “Mail Moment.” They have complete confidence their mail will be delivered in a timely manner. And they trust it will not have been tampered with or stolen.

That confidence and trust are preserved by one of America’s oldest federal law enforcement agenciesthe United States Postal Inspection Service.

It’s a trust well-placed. And one we take very seriously.

Every day, the U.S. Postal Service delivers about 700 million pieces of mail to U.S. households and businesses. And, every day, the Postal Inspection Service is there, protecting the U.S. Postal Service, securing and ensuring the nation’s mail system, and ensuring public trust in the U.S. Mail.

Indeed, the Postal Inspection Service specifically is empowered by Congress “to investigate postal offenses and civil matters relating to the Postal Service.” We’re known among our law-enforcement colleagues as the “Silent Service” because most of our investigations are conducted without publicity and fanfare. Nonetheless, our work impacts the daily lives of all Americans in positive ways.

When a thief takes something out of your mailbox or a scam artist puts something in itPostal Inspectors are on the case.

When a postal employee is assaulted, when a Post Office™ is robbed, when a criminal mails drugs or a bombPostal Inspectors immediately investigate.

When a natural disaster hitsPostal Inspectors are on the scene, helping restore vitally needed mail service.

It comes down to this: Whenever and wherever a crime occurs involving postal employees, customers, property, or Postal Service revenues or assets, highly trained and experienced Postal Inspectors immediately are called in. And to the criminal elements who prey on postal customers, the arrival of Postal Inspectors means their crime games against the Postal Service and society are about to end.

Postal Inspectors are tenacious federal law enforcement agents. They carry firearms, make arrests, execute federal search warrants, and serve subpoenas. They also work in close cooperation with various other law enforcement agencies to investigate all manner of postal crimes and expertly prepare criminal cases for court.

Postal Inspectors are strategically stationed throughout the continental United States, Alaska, and Hawaii. They also report for work in Puerto Rico; Guam; Germany; England; Interpol headquarters in Lyon, France; The Hague, Netherlands; and at Universal Postal Union headquarters in Berne, Switzerland.

The success rate of the agency in winning convictions has been a remarkable achievement. Ironically, that fact has not been lost on postal criminals themselves. Thirties’ crime boss “Dutch” Schultz once lamented that, like himself, a person would have to be “plenty stupid” to commit a crime against what was then the Post Office Department.

Methods used by criminals today to steal mail vary widely and are increasingly more sophisticated than in Schultz’ time. Fortunately, only a tiny fraction of the mail the Postal Service handles falls prey to thieves. But, every piece of mail in the mailstream every day in America is important. And any piece that is stolen is significant. On average, Postal Inspectors make roughly 10 arrests every day for mail-theft offenses.

Although mail theft can occur almost anywhere, the theft of large volumes of mail by gangs“volume attacks,” we call themare on the increase. Mail theft at domestic and international airports also is on the rise. A constant vigil must be maintained.

It doesn’t matter what the mailpiece is. A greeting card from Aunt Minnie. A multimillion-dollar credit card promotion. A retiree’s eagerly anticipated annuity check.

No matter what mail a thief may target, all postal customers are guaranteed equal access to the agency’s formidable investigative powers and resources.

And it’s all included in the price of postage!

Solving cases and putting criminals behind bars often require the support of scientific and technical personnel. That’s why the

Postal Inspection Service staffs its own ultra-modern National Forensic Laboratory just outside Washington, DC, and two technical services field offices.

It’s an amazing operation.

Forensic analysts routinely aid in criminal investigations by providing document, fingerprint, chemical, and even digital and other high-tech physical evidence analysis. Dedicated lab personnel assist in processing and evaluating critical evidence. And staff chemists conduct thorough scientific analyses of suspected controlled substances transported through the mail.

As serious as mail theft losses can be, there is the potential for even greater damage to occur. If left unchecked, mail theft could erode the mailing public’s confidence in what federal statutes refer to as the “sanctity of the seal.” In more contemporary language, that means: “Don’t mess with the U.S. Mail!”

It’s a right embodied in the U.S. Constitution.

Consider for a moment this fact: On any given day, there are more than one million credit cards in the mailstreaman obvious security concern of Postal Inspectors.

It’s a concern that a few years ago led the Postal Inspection Service and the credit card industry to act on an ingenious suggestionone made by a Postal Inspector! The idea was to ensure that a credit card mailed to someone was unusable until the intended user actually received the card and called the credit card issuer to have it activated.

The idea not only proved workable in a technical sense but has significantly reduced credit card fraud losses. Since the initiative was implemented, the theft of credit cards from the mail has declined 80 percent!

The Postal Inspection Service also is actively involved in helping prevent crimes against postal customers and employees.

A case in point: The likelihood of anyone receiving a bomb in the mail, much less being injured by one, is extremely low. Nonetheless, stringent safeguards must be in place to prevent mail bomb disasters. An integral part of that effort is a public information campaign to alert customers and postal employees alike as to what safety measures to take if a letter or parcel looks at all suspicious.

Postal Inspectors also work closely with concerned citizens and neighborhood crime prevention groups to reduce the likelihood of criminal activity. Of particular emphasis are safeguards to prevent assaults on the nation’s more than 170,000 letter carriers.

For obvious security reasons, we can’t discuss the specifics of what the Postal Inspection Service does to protect postal facilities from attack. We can say, however, that the aggressive preventative measures we employcoupled with tough criminal penaltieshave led to a significant reduction in postal robberies and burglaries in recent years. In fact, out of more than 37,000 postal facilities nationwide, fewer than 100 are robbed each year.

Contributing greatly to our ongoing achievements is the work of our roughly 800 uniformed Postal Police Officers. These highly trained Postal Inspection Service employees assume many responsibilities, such as providing perimeter security in high-risk postal areas and escorting high-value mail shipments.

The Postal Inspection Service aggressively pursues public education efforts to help thwart thieves in many relatively new criminal endeavors. No longer are some thieves satisfied to blatantly steal items of obvious value from the mail. They’ve learned how to steal from the mail by using a computer.

For example, more and more thieves are committing “identity theft.” It’s an insidious crime. And, chances are, you’d have no idea you’ve become a victim of identity theft until a great deal of financial damage has been done. Damage that often can’t be undone.

Identity theft is personal. It violates everything that is you. It involves someone unlawfully accessing your date of birth, Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, and other identification to gain unlawful access to your personal and financial information. The information may come from financial documents stolen from the mail.

The number of identity theft victims continues to grow each year. Identity thieves can wreak financial havoc with your credit cards. They can switch funds from your bank account to theirs. They can divert your new blank-check order to themselves. They can even have your annuity check sent directly to them. The list goes on.

Because of the extensive use of the mail to commit these crimes, the Postal Inspection Service has become a leading agency in investigating identity theft and in preventing consumers from being victimized by unscrupulous scam artists.

You’ve heard the world of the Internet referred to as “cyberspace.” Well, where there’s cyberspace, there’s cybercrime. And Postal Inspectors have an obligation to combat it, too.

Why? Because fraud on the Internet becomes mail fraud when payments for illegal schemes are received via the mail. Thieves who commit more than half of all tracked Internet fraud are paid with either a check or money order dropped in the mail.

Apart from the outright theft of the mail are countless illegal schemes that violate the nation’s oldest consumer lawthe Mail Fraud Statute enacted in 1872. Over the years, Postal Inspectors have investigated more illegal “boiler room” operations than any other law enforcement agency.

Have you ever been the victim of mail fraud? You might not necessarily know if you were! The most common examples of mail fraud against consumers are illegal contest and sweepstakes schemes, chain letters, travel and vacation fraud, merchandise misrepresentations, phony billing scams, and fraudulent investment “opportunities,” to name but a few.

And then there are work-at-home schemes, rebate fraud, foreign lottery fraudall through the mail. If there’s illegal money to be made in connection with operating a mail fraud, you can bet some scam artist is doing it.

Older citizens, the physically challenged, “shut-ins,” and the disadvantaged conveniently receive many of their purchases by mail. Sadly, that makes them easy prey for mail fraud operators. To make matters worse, these operators sell their ill-gotten mail lists to other criminal elements, resulting in the repeated victimization of many elderly citizens.

Mail fraud against businesses also is a major concern to the Postal Inspection Service. Fraudulent schemes targeting businesses range from the inept to the ingenious. On the more damaging end of the scale are found the submission of bogus accidental death insurance policies to insurance companies, fraudulent telephone business directory solicitations, and scams involving dummy companies used to apply for bank loans and obtain investor funds.

Unfortunately, mail fraud is expected to increase as criminals access the Internet and use Web sites and chat rooms to operate their fraudulent schemes on a much wider scale. The Postal Inspection Service is helping combat that trend by operating a successful Internet fraud initiative in cooperation with Internet service providers, consumer protection organizations, and others.

In another area of public service to the country, Postal Inspectors play a key role in helping wage the nation’s war on illegal drugs. In fact, their work to identify and prosecute major drug mailers and intercept illegal drug proceeds that traffickers attempt to send through the mail is well-known and respected.

On average, 1,000 suspects are arrested by Postal Inspectors each year for trafficking drugs and “laundering”disguising the source ofdrug money via the U.S. Mail. In addition to seizing cash obtained through criminal activity, Postal Inspectors have used federal forfeiture laws to seize houses, vehicles, boats, artwork, and other high-value items purchased with drug money.

More than a century ago, the Postal Inspection Service began waging a relentless battle against the purveyors of smut shipped via the U.S. Mail. In fact, the 1873 Comstock Actthe federal postal obscenity lawwas named after Postal Inspector Anthony Comstock, whose obscenity investigations became a personal crusade.

In the 1970s, Postal Inspectors expanded their investigations of illicit materials in the mail to include one of the more heinous crimes of contemporary timesthe sexual exploitation of children.

Today, with more and more unlawful computer transmissions and child pornography on the Internet, use of the mail to transport child pornography has increased and our investigative commitment continues.

Working in close cooperation with the Department of Justice and other agencies, the Postal Inspection Service has earned a well-deserved reputation as a true leader in the war against child sexual exploitation. Since passage of the Child Protection Act in 1984, Postal Inspectors have arrested thousands of child pornographers and molesters for trafficking child pornography through the mail and, in the process, saved hundreds of children from further sexual abuse.

Well, there you have it.

Safety. Security. Integrity. When these issues relate to the U.S. Mailas invariably they dothey relate directly to the work of the United States Postal Inspection Service.

So, think of us the next time you place a stamp on an envelope or mail a parcel. As your mail is hurried to its destinationsafely and securelywe’ll certainly be thinking about you.