WEST TOWN — A $50 Taco Bell gift card. A $700 charge at Target. $7,000 in charges and cash withdrawals.
These are just some of the ways West Town residents say they’ve been ripped off from letters and packages sent to them through the U.S. Postal Service. And the victims blame postal service workers.
The thefts range from ripped envelopes to full-on identity theft, and it appears to afflict specific blocks in West Town and the Ukrainian Village.
Stolen credit cards have been used to purchase Uber rides, multi-family phone plans with AT&T and Verizon and iPhones and iPads. One thief spent $700 at Target. Another bought a dinner worth hundreds at Parlor Pizza in the West Loop.
The thieves appear to be crafty and brazen with the ways in which they steal West Town residents’ identities:
- One thief stole and photoshopped his or her own name onto a resident’s check and deposited it for themselves.
- Three different thefts during the month of August resulted in a collective loss of $7,000 in charges and cash withdrawals.
In many cases, residents said they have reported the thefts to the USPS.
Jeff Arney, an agent who works in the Chicago branch of the USPS Office of Inspector General, confirmed a recent increase in reported mail thefts in the West Town area. The Office of the Inspector General is investigating the reports, he said.
While the victims may be clustered in a specific area — in this case, West Town — the crime itself may not be happening in Chicago, Arney said.
For example: when a birthday card leaves a house in North Dakota, it will go through various processing centers and mail routes driven by different drivers before reaching its destination in the Ukrainian Village.
Madeleine Marie Brown lives in the 800 block of North Marshfield Avenue, near the corner of Chicago and Ashland avenues. In addition to $3,000 in fraudulent credit card charges, Brown estimates she and her husband have lost anywhere between $1,000 and $2,000 in stolen checks and cash intended as Christmas or birthday presents.
“It’s hard to know [how much has been stolen] because it’s awkward to call people and ask if the birthday card that was received taped shut should have had money in it,” Brown said.
Brown said she reported the thefts to USPS, and that the postal service opened an investigation. She’s yet to receive any follow-up information or monetary compensation.
Brown urged her neighbors to report thefts to the USPS online or by calling 877-876-2455.
Arney encouraged residents to call the Inspector General’s office directly at 1-888-877-7644.
“Please, please report these incidents to the USPS,” Brown said. “If we all report, they will need to take it seriously.”
In the meantime, Brown and her husband have all credit cards mailed to them via FedEx.
“It’s obviously a USPS issue, since the FedEx’d cards arrive without issue,” she said.
Christopher, who asked that his last name not be used due to fear of retaliation, lives near the corner of Ashland Avenue and Superior Street. In total, he’s lost at least $300 in the form of gift cards and cash.
Every Christmas and birthday, he said, has come to expect his envelopes ripped open.
After reporting the theft of a $50 Taco Bell gift card, Christopher’s sister-in-law was able to have USPS refund the balance.
But when he contacted USPS, all he got were a few emails and a phone call.
“I received one phone call apologizing for the inconvenience, and an email about once a month for six months saying the USPS cannot locate my missing mail,” he said. “Which isn’t really the point of my report but that’s the generic email I received multiple times.”
Arney said he doesn’t want people to lose faith in USPS as investigators look into the reports.
“The vast majority USPS personnel are dedicated, hard-working public servants dedicated to moving mail to its proper destination,” he said.
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