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Back to Archives | Back to March 2005 Contents 

From The Chief Postal Inspector
U.S. Postal Inspectors: Partners in the Investigation of Identity Theft and Crimes Involving the U.S. Mail

By Lee R. Heath, Chief Postal Inspector, U.S. Postal InspectionService, Washington, D.C.

Lee R. Heath, Chief Postal Inspector, U.S. Postal InspectionService, Washington, D.C.
Lee R. Heath, Chief Postal Inspector, U.S. Postal InspectionService, Washington, D.C.

eamwork leads to success on the playing field and on the job. The success of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for more than 200 years has been built upon our partnerships with agencies from all levels of domestic and international law enforcement.

Even though postal inspectors interact daily with local, county, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies, the Postal Inspection Service has often been referred to affectionately as the Silent Service-effective and professional but often unnoticed. Today, there are still police organizations that are unaware of the investigative resources that we can share with law enforcement.

The mission of our organization is to protect the U.S. Postal Service, its employees, and its customers from criminal attack; to secure the nation's mail system from criminal misuse; and to ensure the American public's trust in the U.S. mail. These duties and responsibilities are enormous. There are approximately 750,000 postal employees at 40,000 postal facilities who deliver 650 million pieces of mail daily to more than 141 million American households and businesses.

The agency's 1,900 postal inspectors rely on their partners in domestic and international law enforcement. The contrast between our small size and our great success appears even more dramatic when one considers the extent to which offenders use the mail to facilitate criminal activities.

In the early 1990s, when identity theft started to accelerate, inspectors in our Pittsburgh field division worked with their counterparts at the federal, state, county, and city levels to create the Financial Crimes Task Force of Southwestern Pennsylvania. The task force has conducted several hundred investigations.

Some of our most recent identity theft task forces are in Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Virginia. In Washington, we have created an identity theft task force that comprises federal and county law enforcement agencies and several financial institutions. Our most recent task force is the Metro Richmond Fraud and Identity Theft Task Force, housed in our Richmond domicile.

This task force includes federal, state, county, and city law enforcement.

One of the investigative tools available to our identity theft task forces is the Financial Crimes Database, an investigative application used to analyze mail theft and identity theft reports. The database contains information on stolen U.S. mail as well as stolen and fraudulently used checks and credit, ATM, and debit cards. Data from financial institutions and major mailers is included in the database.

Another effective method of sharing information comes from Financial Industry Mail Security, our newsletter for credit card industry members, financial institutions, airlines, and law enforcement agencies. Information in this newsletter includes hot addresses that local law enforcement agencies and financial institutions believe criminals are using to facilitate fraud schemes.

To stem the growing trend of telemarketing fraud crossing our borders, we are members of task forces with Canadian police and regulatory agencies. Victims of cross-border fraud are often the elderly and others who are vulnerable because they are living on a fixed or limited income. The four major cross-border fraud partnerships are Project Colt in Montreal, the Strategic Partnership in Toronto, the Alberta Partnership against Cross-Border Fraud in Calgary, and Project Emptor in Vancouver, British Columbia.

In conjunction with our cross-border task forces we have implemented several major consumer protection campaigns with the Federal Trade Commission to educate consumers and increase awareness about the various mail fraud schemes targeting the public.

Since fall 2001, postal inspectors have faced new challenges in protecting the nation's mail system. The anthrax and ricin-tainted mailings served to highlight the vulnerability of the Postal Service's component of the national critical infrastructure.

Within months, the focus of the Postal Inspection Service was expanded from its primary and historical role of investigating domestic criminal activity, such as mail theft, mail fraud, child exploitation, the shipping of narcotics and criminal proceeds through the mail, and postal robberies and assaults, to responding to a new national and international threat with security implications for the Postal Service and the entire nation.

The Postal Inspection Service has created dangerous-mail response teams to report to postal facilities in the event of a biohazard alert. Some postal inspectors have been specially trained as hazardous waste operations and emergency response standard (Hazwoper) technicians who can enter hazardous environments and gather evidence. Since October 2001, postal inspectors have responded to more than 20,000 incidents of suspicious substances in the mail or postal facilities.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has a rich tradition that dates back to the founding of the United States, and today's postal inspectors look forward to working with their law enforcement partners to make sure good triumphs over evil. ■



From The Police Chief, vol. 72, no. 3, March 2005. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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