Mail theft with master key impacts entire South Seattle zip code

A whole zip code in South Seattle is not getting mail delivered because of mail theft. This is primarily impacting people who use cluster mailboxes, from apartments to townhomes.

Apartments are letting residents know that thieves have apparently gotten ahold of a master key that works all over zip code 98118.

“This is definitely taking to the next level,” said Lucy Henningsgaard, who was in line at the Columbia Station Annex post office to pick up her mail. She said her apartment notice said residents would be asked to pick up their mail at the post office until June 3.

“Oh it’s frustrating,” said Greg, another South Seattle resident who declined to share his last name.

Surveillance video shows people in the act. The video owner asked KIRO7 to not show it on TV for safety reasons, but the video is circulating in the neighborhood.

“Two or three men get out, some with masks on come out, and immediately just pop open every single one all the way down,” said Megan Knight, who lives in an impacted neighborhood in South Seattle. “It was not their first rodeo,” she said.

The video shows the men are in and out in about a minute, scooping up mail from every box.

Now mail has been halted at residences across the zip code where mail can be accessed by using a master key – also called an arrow key.

On Friday, a line of people waited outside the Columbia Station post office. Some people who waited upwards of 45 minutes were turned away when the post office closed at 5pm.”I’ve tried to pick my mail up three times,” said Juana Esquibel, who was one of the last people able to get her mail before the post office closed. She said she had to take off from work early to get her mail.

The U.S. Postal Inspector for the Seattle area is investigating this theft case. Meanwhile, USPS announced on Friday that robberies of mail carriers nationwide is already up nearly 50 percent this fiscal year compared to last year. It also said specifically, “There has been an increase in letter carrier robberies nationwide where criminals are targeting letter carriers for their Arrow and Modified Arrow Lock (MAL) Keys.”

An audit of USPS from 2020 found troubling problems with arrow keys, saying “the number of arrow keys in circulation is unknown” and “local units did not adequately report lost, stolen, or broken keys.” That audit recommended major changes including creating and maintaining a nationwide arrow key inventory.

Now people in South Seattle are on high alert, worried if their information has been compromised.

“We have heard of somebody who has lost a credit card already once and has seen charges show up - so it can really balloon,” Knight said.

To crack down on rising mail theft, USPS said it is changing out 49,000 arrow locks with electronic locks. It’s not clear yet when those changes may be coming to the Seattle area.

USPS also said it is adding 12,000 high security blue collection boxes nationwide, where it’s more difficult for criminals to access the contents.

The post office also shared the following tips on how you can help:

Action the American Public Can Take To Help Prevent Mail Theft

Customers can take several steps to protect their mail and their letter carriers, including:

  • Don’t let incoming or outgoing mail sit in your mailbox. You can significantly reduce the chance of being victimized by simply removing your mail from your mailbox every day.
  • Deposit outgoing mail through a number of secure manners including inside your local Post Office or at your place of business or by handing it to a letter carrier.
  • Sign up for Informed Delivery and get daily digest emails that preview your mail and packages scheduled to arrive soon.
  • Become involved and engaged in your neighborhood via neighborhood watches and local social media groups to spread awareness and share information.
  • Keep an eye out for your letter carrier. If you see something that looks suspicious, or you see someone following your carrier, call 911.

Customers are encouraged to report stolen mail as soon as possible by submitting an online complaint to the Postal Inspection Service at www.uspis.gov/report or calling 877-876-2455.  Additionally, individuals are encouraged to report allegations of Postal Service employee misconduct, including attempts to corrupt a Postal Service employee, to the USPS OIG at 1-888-877-7644 or www.uspsoig.gov.

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