U.S. Postal Service 'master key' stolen, raises concern of mail thefts in Mill Creek area

MILL CREEK, Wash. – It’s a mail thief’s dream, stealing a Postal Service master key to all the mailboxes and blue collection bins in two zip codes.

On Tuesday, a mail carrier says a group of thieves started a conversation with her and distracted her long enough to grab her master key.  It happened in Mill Creek in the 98021 and 98012 zip codes.

Mill Creek’s Craig Peterson has had a rough few years.

“I’ve had five times my identity stolen in the last three or four years,” said Peterson.

He says mailbox thieves are to blame.

“We put a locking mailbox outside and they broke it, so that’s why I got the P.O. box in the first place.  My mail gets stolen right out in front of my house,” said Peterson.

But individual mailboxes are now small fries.  U.S. postal inspectors say two thieves targeted a postal worker on Tuesday by walking up to her for a casual conversation while she was stuffing boxes at a communal mailbox.  One or two other thieves were in the getaway car.

“(They) orchestrated attempt at distracting a mail carrier with the sole purpose of stealing her mail key she uses to open up the boxes,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Jeremy Leder.

They got away with a master key that can open many mailboxes and collection bins.  They’ve already struck 12 times in two days.

“It’s not a victimless crime, it’s a personal crime when your mail is stolen, that’s your personal information and I think the people of Washington state are pretty sick of it,” said Leder.

The Mill Creek Police Department has this warning for people living in the area: Take your outgoing mail to the post office or put it in a secure, non-communal box.  Retrieve your incoming mail as quickly as possible and make sure to do so before nighttime.

“(It) can mess with people’s finances, can mess with people’s personal life, can prevent them from obtaining loans and houses and things like that,” said Leder.

The postal service won’t do the costly replacement of changing all the locks.  Instead it’s using other measures it doesn’t want to release to the public.  That leaves people like Peterson left to make some changes of their own.

“Definitely going to go in the building and dump it in the chute from now own,” said Peterson.

Investigators haven’t released the description of the suspects, but they’re looking for two women and possibly two men.  They face significant charges.  Federal mail theft and illegal use of postal keys is a felony and comes with a five-year prison sentence for each count.