Las Vegas police combat rising mail theft, fraud

Ryan Matthey and Greg Haas

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — From the blue boxes outside the post office to your mailbox at home, police are battling mail thieves who see the crime as low risk and high reward.

The dead of night when most people are sleeping typically sets the crime scene that few discover until the next day: important items missing from their mailbox including bank statements, mailed credit cards and drivers licenses, and more. 8 News Now has shared doorbell security footage of some instances where a getaway car rolls up, takes whatever’s inside, and speeds off.

Multiple counterfeit arrow keys and tampered mailbox locks seized by Metro police. (LVMPD photo)

Las Vegas Metro police say the problem is getting worse, especially in affluent communities like Summerlin. It takes less than a minute for thieves – becoming craftier and more violent to get what they want – to empty multiple boxes commonly seen in Nevada neighborhoods.

That’s according to LVMPD Financial Crimes Section Detective Marc Evans, who says the problem spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic when consumers were more frequently using personal information to shop online. That helped thieves blend in. But first they had to steal an identity.

Detective Marc Evans talks about the growing mail theft problem with 8 News Now’s Ryan Matthey. (KLAS)

“Criminals believe that if you go to more affluent areas, there’s going to be better credit cards, better bank documents,” Evans said inside LVMPD Headquarters Thursday morning. “If you get a universal key, you’ll pretty much get access to an entire side of town.”

Those universal keys are called arrow keys. Mail carriers use them to open several mailboxes in an area.

Mail carriers are now increasingly targets of assaults for those keys, which Evans says are then duplicated, sold online – up to $7,000 in some cases – and used to access mail of value to run the gamut of fraud: taking out loans, creating mortgages and maxing out credit cards. He says it’s not uncommon to find seven to eight people working together in this scheme.

An arrow key that USPS mail carriers use to open several mailboxes in an area. (LVMPD photo)

Thieves that obtain a key no longer work only at night. Evans says some are disguising themselves as carriers during the day.

“That way they can do this crime in the middle of the day, and a typical person is not going to think that they’re a criminal because they’re wearing the uniform of what appears to be the uniform of a postal carrier,” Evans said. “(Victims) can’t go apply for a loan for a house. They can’t go apply for a loan for a car. They can’t get a job because now someone’s used their identity and have gotten arrested using their identity.”

LVMPD recorded around 600 mail theft and carrier assault incidents last year. Of those thieves caught, 16 had counterfeit or stolen arrow keys. The National Association of Letter Carriers reported 30 carriers that were attacked or robbed within the past three years in the Las Vegas Valley.

Thieves convicted on federal charges can face up to five years in prison. Thanks to a 2023 Nevada law, convicted thieves could then face up to an additional four years in prison. But, that’s not always the punishment received.

“They’ll say, ‘Okay, I’ll go to prison for — or I’ll go to jail for a few months, but I’ll make $50,000. So, to them, it’s worth it,” Evans said. “They’ve been arrested multiple times, sometimes 20 plus times for fraud-related crimes, and not just in our state. They’ve been arrested across the country.”

Despite the growing number of incidents, Evans said it’s getting easier to crack down on these thieves thanks to felony punishments in the 2023 Nevada Law at the state and local level that allows them to charge those they find with stolen mail or arrow keys. But, he acknowledges Vegas’ unique nature as a transient city – where casinos act as a 24/7 bank to cash fraudulent checks and take out money – sends their operation nationwide to track down criminals.

Evans recommends Vegas Valley residents should:

  • Sign up for informed delivery through USPS, which sends digital confirmations of mail expected to be delivered
  • Check the mailbox daily and remove letters prior to nighttime
  • Do not send checks in the mail
  • Avoid placing outgoing mail in the blue steel mailboxes outside post offices where thieves can easily use “fishing” tools to obtain mail on the inside

“With the criminals, they want fast money,” Evans said. “The last thing we want is, you know, our public servants to feel like they can’t do their job.”

Multiple stolen or counterfeit passports and credit cards related to mail theft incidents in Clark County. (LVMPD photo)

Those who believe they’ve become a victim of mail theft can report an incident on the United States Postal Inspection Service’s website. Those who believe they’ve fallen victim to other fraud because of mail theft can contact LVMPD or local police stations to file a report.

Mail carriers are also pushing for the passage of the federal Protect Our Letter Carriers Act that would improve security of mailboxes, replace arrow keys with digital keys and encourage harsher prosecution of crimes against letter carriers.

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