Publication 278 - U.S. Postal Inspection Service - A Guide for the U.S. Congress
February 2008
PSN 7610-08-000-4312


Safety • Security • Integrity

The mission of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service is to protect the U.S. Postal Service, secure the nation’s mail system, and ensure public trust in the mail.

Founded by Benjamin Franklin, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has a successful history of fighting criminals who attack and misuse our nation’s postal system. Postal Inspectors — authorized by Congress to enforce nearly 200 federal statutes related to crimes involving the U.S. Mail and postal system — safeguard every aspect of the mail.

Postal Inspectors throughout the United States — and at key international locations — investigate crimes that fraudulently use the U.S. Mail and postal system. Postal Inspectors work closely with U.S. attorneys, other law enforcement agencies, and local prosecutors to investigate postal cases and prepare them for court. Uniformed Postal Police Officers are assigned to facilities considered most at risk for crime and provide protection for Postal Service employees, mail, and property.

The U.S. Postal Service:

Employs more than 696,000 workers.

  • Delivers to more than 148 million households and businesses in the United States.
  • Moves 212 billion pieces of mail per year — more mail than any other postal system in the world.

Protecting Americans From Mail Fraud
The Mail Fraud Statute is the most effective of the consumer protection laws. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service uses the statute to maximum effect. For more than a century, Postal Inspectors have protected the American public by investigating fraud when it involves the U.S. Mail. Although “corporate fraud” implies business fraud, the majority of fraud victims are private citizens.
Mail fraud charges may result from:

  • Illegal sweepstakes schemes.
  • Chain letters.
  • Travel and vacation scams.
  • Merchandise misrepresentations.
  • Phony billings.
  • Fraudulent investment opportunities.
  • Work-at-home schemes.
  • Rebate fraud.
  • Foreign lottery scams.

Fraud Schemes on the Internet
Opportunities for mail fraud have increased as criminals turn to the Internet to operate illegal schemes on a larger scale, with greater anonymity. The Postal Inspection Service works with Internet service providers, consumer-protection groups, and related industry groups to educate businesses and individuals about how to safely conduct business over the Internet.

President’s Corporate Fraud Task Force
In the wake of numerous high-profile financial scandals in 2002, President George W. Bush created the Corporate Fraud Task Force by Executive Order. Following the director of the FBI, the Chief Postal Inspector became the second head of a criminal investigative agency assigned to the President’s Corporate Fraud Task Force.
The Department of Justice Mail Fraud Team
The Department of Justice (DOJ) Mail Fraud Team is composed of experienced Postal Inspectors and contract fraud analysts stationed full-time at the DOJ Criminal Fraud Section in Washington, DC. Since its creation in March 2005, the team has successfully investigated and assisted in the prosecution of complex corporate fraud cases. Team members conduct high-priority domestic and international consumer and mail fraud investigations and work closely with their law enforcement counterparts in the U.S. and abroad. In FY 2007, the DOJ Mail Fraud Team received the Assistant Attorney General’s Outstanding Law Enforcement Partnership Award.
Consumer Protection Program
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Consumer Protection Program assists customers in resolving complaints when there is no evidence of an intentional scheme to defraud but rather poor or faulty business practices. Members of the public may report suspected mail fraud online at the Postal Inspection Service’s Web site at:
Identity Theft Task Force
Created in response to the heavy financial and emotional toll caused by ID theft and the severe burdens placed on the economy, the Identity Theft Task Force marshals the resources of several federal agencies to crack down on criminals who traffic in stolen identities and to protect Americans from this devastating crime. The Postal Service was appointed to the President’s Identity Theft Task Force when it was created in 2006, and the Postmaster General designated the Chief Postal Inspector to take a leadership role on the task force. Three of the task force’s recommendations were based on programs the Postal Inspection Service has implemented for many years.
Investigating Child Exploitation
In 1873, Congress passed a law banning the use of the mail to distribute obscene material. Known as the Comstock Act, the bill was drafted by Post Office Inspector Anthony Comstock. The Act was a forerunner to the current statute used to prosecute those who send or intentionally receive obscene material through the mail. For more than a century, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has been investigating mailings of obscene matter.
Today, the Internet is the most-used venue for advertising obscene material and introducing it into American homes. From the Internet, such items can easily reach young children, exposing them to graphic and often violent sexually oriented matter. While obscenity is advertised on the Internet, obscenity dealers are likely to use the U.S. Mail to deliver the product to their customers, in violation of federal law.
The Postal Inspection Service has a longstanding reputation as a leader in the battle against child sexual exploitation and was the first law enforcement agency to aggressively identify, target, and arrest child pornography distributors and their customers. Recognizing that these criminals incorrectly assume the U.S. Mail is a safe, anonymous vehicle to traffic in illicit material, Postal Inspectors have investigated child sexual exploitation and the distribution of pornography for the past 30 years. Since the enactment of the Federal Child Protection Act of 1984, Postal Inspectors have arrested thousands of child molesters and pornographers and, even better, have rescued more than 1 thousand child victims.
For customers who do not want to receive unsolicited sexually oriented ads through the mail, the Postal Inspection Service offers:

  • Publication 307, Stop Unsolicited Sexually Oriented  Advertisements.
  • PS Form 1500, Application for Listing and/or Prohibitory Order. Both items are available for viewing and printing at the Postal Inspection Service Web site or may be ordered by calling the Postal Service’s Material Distribution Center toll-free at 1-800-332-0317 and selecting option 4 twice.

National Law Enforcement Control Centers
The Postal Inspection Service’s National Law Enforcement Control Centers (NLECCs) are located at Dulles, Virginia, and Ft. Worth, Texas. The two 24-hour facilities monitor the agency’s national law enforcement radio network and intrusion-detection systems at Postal Service facilities nationwide. They provide emergency and after-hours phone coverage for the Postal Inspection Service and give Postal Inspectors access to law enforcement and intelligence information. The NLECC facilities are designed with full redundancy to support operations for the entire country from a single facility should operations fail at one facility.
U.S. Postal Inspection Service
Jurisdiction and Laws
Postal Inspectors enforce more than 200 federal laws in investigations of crimes that may adversely affect or fraudulently use the U.S. Mail, the postal system, or Postal Service employees. The list below describes some of our most important areas of jurisdiction.
(18 USC 111 & 1114)
The protection of Postal Service employees is one of our most important responsibilities. Inspectors promptly investigate assaults and threats that occur while Postal Service employees are performing official duties or as a result of their employment.
(18 USC 1716)
Although a rare crime, the mailing of bombs is given one of our highest investigative priorities due to the severe impact it can have on Postal Service customers, employees, and operations.
(18 USC 2115)
The Postal Service experiences about 300 burglaries each year. Inspectors have minimized losses through the use of security equipment and facility design.
Child Exploitation
(18 USC 1470, 2251, 2252, 2253, 2254, 2422, & 2425)
The Postal Inspection Service has long been recognized as the leading federal law enforcement agency in the effort to combat the production and distribution of child pornography and other crimes exploiting children through the mail and, when it involves the mail, over the Internet.
Controlled Substances
(21 USC 841, 843 & 844)
Postal Inspectors initiate investigations related to transporting and distributing narcotics through the mail or at Postal Service facilities.
Counterfeit Stamps, Money Orders, and Related Crimes
(18 USC 500, 501, 503 & 1720)
Postal Inspectors preserve public confidence in the mail by pursuing individuals who forge, alter, or counterfeit postage stamps, postal money orders, and other stamp products. The Inspection Service helps train Postal Service employees to recognize bogus postal money orders.
Destruction, Obstruction and Delay of Mail
(18 USC 1700, 1701, 1702 & 1703)
The Postal Inspection Service upholds federal statutes aimed at securing customers’ mail, including those related to the desertion, obstruction, delay, or destruction of mail. Postal Inspectors demonstrate their resolve by implementing mail security processes to ensure that customers receive their mail intact and free from outside interference.
Electronic Crimes
(18 USC 1029, 1030, 1037, 1343, & 2701)
Inspectors protect Postal Service customers from fraud schemes and other crimes that may occur online and involve the misuse of the mail or of the Postal Service. This includes using or selling stolen or counterfeit access devices, such as credit card numbers; using protected computers without proper authority or exceeding authorized access; using computer communications in a scheme to defraud; using a false identity when sending commercial e-mails to mislead or deceive recipients, as with spam; and unauthorized access to communications that are stored electronically via a communications service.
(18 USC 873, 876 & 877)
Postal Inspectors investigate extortion and blackmail when demands for ransoms or rewards are sent through the U.S. Mail. Inspectors also strictly enforce laws prohibiting mail that contains threats of kidnapping, physical injury, or injury to the property or reputations of others.
(18 USC 981 & 982)
Postal Inspectors use criminal and civil forfeiture statutes, when appropriate, to seize assets associated with criminal acts.
Identity Fraud
(18 USC 1028)
The Postal Inspection Service is a leading federal law enforcement agency in the investigation of identity takeovers.
(18 USC 1301, 1302 & 1303; 39 USC 3005)
Postal Inspectors protect consumers by strictly enforcing all laws related to importing, transporting, and mailing lottery tickets. Under the false representations and lottery statute (3005), Inspectors are authorized to instruct postmasters to withhold from delivery and return to sender any mail that violates the law.
Mail Fraud
(18 USC 1341, 1342 & 1345; 39 USC 3005 & 3007)
The Postal Inspection Service is committed to protecting Postal Service customers from misuse of the mail. Inspectors place special emphasis on mail fraud scams related to advance fees, boiler rooms, health care, insurance, investments, deceptive mailings, and other consumer frauds, especially when they target the elderly or other susceptible groups.
Mail or Mailbox Destruction
(18 USC 1705)
The Postal Inspection Service is committed to ensuring the safety of the nation’s mail by securing letter boxes or other receptacles for U.S. Mail. To this end, Postal Inspectors aggressively pursue individuals who willfully or maliciously injure or destroy such receptacles.
Money Laundering
(18 USC 1956 & 1957)
Postal Inspectors aggressively investigate criminals who attempt to conceal the proceeds of illegal acts through monetary transactions. Inspectors identify and seize criminals’ assets, denying violators the proceeds of their crimes.
Obscenity and Sexually Oriented Advertising
(18 USC 1461, 1463 & 1735; 39 USC 3010)
Postal Inspectors follow court-established guidelines to uphold obscenity standards, which prohibit “obscene, lascivious, indecent, filthy or vile” mailings. Customers who wish to halt mailings of sexually oriented advertisements or similar solicitations may complete and submit a Postal Service Form 1500, available at Post Offices.
(18 USC 2114)
Postal Inspectors respond promptly to robberies of Postal Service employees and contractors. Inspectors focus on preventing robberies through the use of security equipment and improved Postal Service procedures.
Theft of Mail
(18 USC 1708 & 1709)
Postal Inspectors invest significant resources into the investigation of mail theft by criminals.
Keeping the Mail Secure
For more than 200 years, Postal Inspectors have investigated bombs, poisons, and other dangerous items in the mail. Forensic analysts at the Postal Inspection Service’s National Forensic Laboratory provide expert examinations and testimony on evidence submitted by Postal Inspectors for document, fingerprint, chemical, and physical evidence analysis. Lab personnel respond to the most critical and complex cases and assist in processing and evaluating evidence, including threatening or dangerous items in the mail.
Response to Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Explosive Incidents
After anthrax in the mail took five lives and harmed others in 2001 and incidents such as ricin mailings and panic-causing hoaxes and threats escalated, the Postal Inspection Service stepped up its responses to mail-related terrorism and hazardous material. Teams of Postal Inspectors are trained to respond to chemical, biological, radiological, and explosive incidents involving the mail and, in concert with other “first responders,” use their unique knowledge of the mail and postal systems to identify and preserve evidence for criminal investigation. Postal Inspectors are integral to the development and deployment of equipment that detects biohazards in the mail. Postal Inspectors provide security guidelines and on-site evaluations of mail centers to help identify security risks and educate businesses on safe mail-handling.
Mail Center Security Guide
The Postal Inspection Service’s Publication 166, Mail Center Security Guide, helps businesses assess and improve the security of their mail operations. You may also order a new Postal Inspection Service-produced DVD, Mail Center Security, that offers advice on how to maintain a safe and secure corporate mailroom. Call 1-877-876-2455 to locate a Postal Inspector near you to order this DVD.
Mail Theft
The American public has an expectation that its mail will be delivered in a timely fashion. Americans trust that their mail will not be tampered with or stolen. Mail theft comes under the jurisdiction of U.S. Postal Inspectors, who are charged with preserving the “sanctity of the seal.”
Every day, more than 700 million letters travel across the country and around the globe. The mail is delivered to 148 million homes, businesses, and P.O. boxes 6 days of every week. And every day those millions of mail pieces are moved to their destinations by plane, ship, rail, truck, automobile, and postal employees and contractors.
Postal Inspectors know that, because mail may contain valuables — jewelry, personal and financial information, and credit cards — criminals may try to steal it. Postal Inspectors devote considerable resources to securing the mail and deploy the best security technology available. Additionally, Postal Inspectors employ preventive tactics that help protect and educate Postal Service employees and the public about mail theft.
Members of the public may report suspected mail theft online at the Postal Inspection Service’s Web site at Or go to and at the lower right of the page, click on “Postal Inspectors: Preserving the Trust.”
Postal Inspection Service Can Help You Reach Your Constituents
Through consumer-protection campaigns, educational publications, video productions, and congressional liaison, Postal Inspectors and staff from the Communications Group work to raise public awareness, especially among older Americans, about how to protect themselves from fraud and avoid becoming victims of fraud or other postal-related crime. Towards this goal, the Postal Inspection Service has produced several free, fraud-prevention DVDs. Individuals may view the DVDs at the U.S. Postal Inspection Service Web site or may order them by calling toll-free 1-877-876-2455. All DVDs feature a Spanish-language option.
Fraud-Prevention DVDs
All the King’s Men: Picking Up the Pieces. Explains the laws that protect victims of federal crimes and services and support available to them. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service urges victims to learn more about their rights and services.
Nowhere to Run: Cross-Border Fraud. Illustrates how U.S. Postal Inspectors created task forces with Canadian law enforcement partners to stop “long distance” scams.
Web of Deceit: Internet Fraud. Tells the story of a scammer who uses the Internet to victimize unsuspecting consumers around the world until he gets caught in his own web of deceit. It also provides tips on what to watch out for when you do business on the Internet.
Long Shot: Foreign Lottery Scams. Tells the story of a foreign lottery fraud victim and the con artist behind the scam and provides tips on helping you avoid becoming a victim of foreign lottery scams.
Work-at-Home Scams: They Just Don’t Pay. Tells the story of a new type of work-at-home scam and how a young mother gets caught up in it. It also provides tips on how to avoid being duped by criminals and what to do if you have been victimized.
Identity Crisis: Protect Your Identity. Tells the story of a couple whose credit is ruined and of the criminals who defrauded them and provides tips on how to protect against identity fraud — and what to do if you become a victim.
Delivering Justice: Dialing for Dollars. Telemarketing fraud costs Americans millions of dollars each year, and older Americans are prime targets. This 15-minute DVD relates the story of such a scam and the lives that are ruined by criminals. It includes tips on how to protect yourself from investment fraud and tells you what to do if you’ve been victimized.
The Postal Inspection Service also offers consumer-awareness and public information guides, including the following:

  • Annual Report of Investigations.
  • Notice 174, Don’t Be the Victim of a Check Scam!
  • Notice 299, Money Order Security Features (also in Spanish).
  • Publication 146, Law Enforcement Guide to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
  • Publication 280, Identity Theft.
  • Publication 166, Mail Center Security Guide.
  • Publication 260-A, Delivering a World of Career Opportunities.
  • Publication 281, Consumer Fraud by Phone or Mail.
  • Publication 300-A, Guide to Preventing Mail Fraud (also in Spanish).
  • Publication 308, Know Your Rights: A Guide for Victims and Witnesses of Crime (also in Spanish).
  • Publication 546, A Consumer’s Guide to Sweepstakes and Lotteries.

Postal Inspection Service publications are available at its Web site for viewing and printing and the publications may be ordered from the Postal Service’s Material Distribution Center by calling, toll-free, 1-800-332-0317 and selecting option 4 twice. Provide the publication’s title and number. There is a minimal charge for printed material.
For more information about the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, call toll-free 1-877-876-2455, or visit our Web site at

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