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CBS News Reports Disturbing Data on USPS Universal “Arrow” Keys

  • Mail theft is on the rise, and checks are being stolen for fraud
  • The Post Office claims it is doing everything it can to combat theft
  • A CBS News investigation seems to show otherwise

CBS News reports that while the US Postal Service claims to be applying "rigorous action" to the mounting problem of mail theft -- checks, packages, and the sensitive information that identity thieves crave -- the postal service seems to be paying "lip service" to their claim of heightened security.

But even as mail theft skyrocketed, from fewer than 60,000 complaints in 2018 to more than 250,000 in 2023, a CBS News investigation has found the postal service is not consistently taking steps to secure millions of universal "arrow keys" that open bulk mailboxes in apartment buildings and neighborhoods coast to coast.

A CBS News review of thousands of pages of audits, court records and agency documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show postal workers and supervisors not tracking the keys, not locking them up and not reporting them missing.

Audits Cause Concern

Indeed, in audit after audit of postal facilities -- from New York to Los Angeles -- the Post Office's independent inspectors "documented workers and supervisors failing to follow basic, long-standing regulations meant to protect the keys — and to prevent one easy way thieves are stealing Americans' mail in bulk."

From 2019 to 2024, the records reviewed by CBS News showed that auditors checked 84 postal facilities for issues related to securing their arrow keys. In 76 facilities across 25 states and the District of Columbia, the inspectors found untracked or unsecured arrow keys.

Arrow keys, which open public bulk mailboxes, have been identified by the Postal Inspector General as as a key area of focus for the post office following an earlier 2020 audit that revealed key failures related to arrow keys.

"If supervisors are not aware of or do not act to account for and report missing arrow keys to the Postal Inspection Service, there is an increased risk of mail theft continuing to occur," the inspector general wrote in 2023. "These thefts damage the Postal Service's reputation and diminish public trust in the nation's mail system."

How the UPSP Intends to Curb the Trend

While details are sparse, CBS News reports that the USPS is outfitting 15,000 mail boxes with "anti-theft upgrades" and 28,000 with "electronic locking mechanisms." Correspondent Ash-Har Quraishi noted that the USPIS would not share information on these electronic locking mechanisms, citing "security concerns."

However, James Bi, Marketing Manager and Fraud Detection Specialist at OrboGraph, recently attended the Southern Financial Exchange Annual Conference and sat in on the session entitled Safeguarding Against Check Fraud: Protecting Your Business Checks in a Digital Age, wherein USPIS agent Michael Maxey provided high-level details on these electronic locking mechanisms. According to Mr. Maxey, the mechanism -- or what he dubbed a "scanner" -- is akin to a secondary lock, where it sends a signal or frequency to enable the postal carrier to use an arrow key to unlock the mailbox. If a scanner is stolen, the USPS can disable that specific scanner.

While, in theory, this should provide an added layer of security, Mr. Bi pointed out several concerns:

I applaud the USPIS for taking steps to upgrade the security technology, but I do have reservations from what I heard during the session. While we do not have technical details, it appears that these electronic locks could have a major flaw -- what is stopping a fraudster from duplicating the signal these scanners produce? We've seen criminals able to steal the frequencies for garage doors and car starters, will this be the case for these electronic locks? Could there be a new market soon on the dark web or Telegram for devices to duplicate the unlock signals?

Only time will tell if these electronic locks will indeed deter criminals. However, for financial institutions, it's a substantial risk to rely on the USPIS to quell the influx of stolen checks. Former Fraudster turned #FraudFighter Alexander Hall notes:

Scams are a societal crisis that consumers will expect to be protected from better, whether it’s education or tools and tech at the businesses they interact with.

Consumers rightfully expect their financial institutions to protect them. The only way to do this is by leveraging the latest technologies like AI and machine learning for check fraud detection. These technologies are deployed in different solutions like Image Forensic AI to interrogate the images of checks and behavioral analysis systems that monitor the behaviors and transactions of an account in order to detect fraud.

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