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How your mail can be 'seen' by thieves before it even arrives

Postal Service program at risk for abuse
Informed Delivery Theft
Posted at 6:52 PM, Feb 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-05 05:35:46-05

CLEVELAND — A U.S. Postal Service program can allow thieves to "see" every piece of mail heading to your mailbox before it arrives potentially placing valuable mail at risk.

First launched by the USPS in 2016, "Informed Delivery" is a free and optional notification feature that gives residential customers the ability to digitally preview their letter-sized mail and manage their packages scheduled to arrive soon.

Postal Service customers can actually "see" photos of mail coming to their homes and so far, more than 35 million customers have enrolled in the program.

But it can also allow thieves to sign up for the service and track valuable mail coming to your house--unless you first enroll in the program that effectively blocks others from creating an account in your name.

That's exactly what happened here in Cleveland when a residential customer received a notice from the postal service "thanking him" for signing up.

Problem is — he never did.

Asking to protect his identity, the customer told us "somebody could monitor our mail and say, 'Oh--there's a check from the government.'"

For example, Federal prosecutors in Massachusetts and Virginia have recently successfully prosecuted fraudsters taking advantage of the Informed Delivery program.

Stephen Frank is an Assistant U.S. Attorney, Chief of the Securities and Fraud Division in Boston who says law enforcement has "techniques" for figuring who's signing up for your informed delivery service in your name and track them.

In one recent case, investigators were able to capture suspects on surveillance photos outside a residential mailbox.

"What these fraudsters do, is they sign up in your name...using that service to track when you are expected t receive a particular piece of mail," Frank said.

Security and fraud experts warn postal customers their mail could be at risk.

Steve Weisman is a law professor specializing in fraud and operates the website scamicide.com that monitors fraud and identity theft and believes the current sign up system used by USPS needs additional security features.

"The verification process they use is too transparent -- they've got to get something a bit more sophisticated and there are plenty of programs out there," Weisman said.

A spokesperson for the postal service declined to provide anyone in the USPS to be interviewed for our report, issuing only a statement saying "fraud cases are low," but refusing to release just how many cases have been investigated.

According to the USPS, "postal service customer identities are not compromised by using the Informed Delivery feature."

Even so, a website maintained by the Postal Service Inspector General displays scores of complaints and concerns over the security of the program, including concerns of "stimulus checks" never arriving.

And while fraud experts advise that by signing up first for the service you effectively block others from doing so--but warn that all names at that address must be added to ensure security.

Transparency Tracker

USPS: 1- Failed to comply with information requests in a reasonable time frame

TRANSPARENCY SHADOW 1.png

The Postal service failed to provide requested information and denied our requests for an on-camera interview.

Learn more about News 5's "Transparency Tracker" initiative here.

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