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Most of us think of the Post Office as the local place where we mail packages, pick up our mail from those handy P.O. Boxes, and buy stamps from the helpful window clerks. In fact there are many different types of employees within the country’s postal system, including Postal Inspectors and Postal Police Officers. The 1200 Postal Inspectors are federal law enforcement officers entitled to carry firearms and make arrests in order to protect the system from people that would commit fraud through its use.
The first Postmaster General of the United States, Benjamin Franklin, set up a system back in the 1770s whereby mail theft could be investigated by the newly formed U.S. Postal Inspection Service. 240+ years later, there are 200 laws that deal with specific crimes against the USPS. These days, much more than letters and money is stolen from the mail and the postal service is used by nefarious types for transporting all kinds of illegal items, including pornography.
The USPIS reports that it made 5,759 arrests in 2019, with an 80% conviction rate, largely for mail theft and mail fraud.
While mail and package thefts are thoroughly investigated, those thefts pale in comparison monetarily to the millions of dollars of illegal drugs that criminals attempt to pass through the system each year. The USPIS employs state-of-the-art methods at their National Forensic Laboratory in Virginia to detect and identify opioids and other drugs after seizure, process fingerprints and DNA to tie the drugs to the bad guys, and ferret out cyber criminals of all types that seek to misuse the mails.
Due to the growing global problems with opioid and fentanyl trafficking, the USPIS agents work cases together with the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to enforce the laws of our country. One interesting method of detecting illicit drugs in the mail allows inspectors to check for 300+ substances without ever opening the packages.
The USPS takes the mission of guarding the mail quite seriously and has a few tips for private citizens to help avoid theft of packages and letters. Check them out:
- Pick up your mail daily. If you’ll be away, contact the local post office and have them hold your mail until you return.
- Don’t send cash in the mail.
- If you need to send something important in the mail, take it to the physical post office or drop it in one of the big blue mail boxes right before pickup time.
If you expect to receive a particular piece of mail and don’t, call the local post office and/or call the sender as soon as you realize it hasn’t arrived on time.
If you suspect mail fraud, you can report it by writing to this address:
Criminal Investigations Service Center
Attn: Mail Fraud
433 W.Harrison Street, Room 3255
Chicago, Il 60699-3255
Just in case you think that the USPIS focuses on the bad guys alone, they also send out emergency response teams after natural disasters (like fires and hurricanes) in order to restart mail service.
The USPIS press kit (https://www.uspis.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/uspis-press-kit-fact-sheet-2021.pdf) points out some of the agency’s duties and history.
Stay tuned for the next article about the USPIS, where I share information about high profile cases in which they have been involved.