(WHNT) – The United States Postal Service (USPS) is making some changes in an effort to prevent mail theft and change of address (COA) fraud.

After recognizing several ongoing safety threats, the USPS and the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) are expanding their ‘Project Safe Delivery Crime Initiative’ to protect employees and facilities, prevent mail and package theft and enforce the law against those who commit crimes against postal employees or involving mail.

The USPS and USPIS announced in early May that they would be doing so in an effort to protect “postal employees and the security of the nation’s mail and packages as threats and attacks on letter carriers and mail fraud incidents have escalated concurrently with a national rise in crime.”

Preventing Mail Theft and Letter Carrier Robberies

According to a release from the USPS, letter carrier robberies have risen across the nation. In the 2022 fiscal year, 412 letter carriers were reportedly robbed on the job. The USPS said 305 incidents involving letter carrier robberies have already been reported in the first half of 2023.

USPS also reported a rise in ‘high volume’ mail theft from mail receptacles including the blue drop-off boxes. It reported 38,500 thefts in 2022 and more than 25,000 already in the first half of 2023.

As a result, 12,000 new ‘high security’ blue collection boxes are set to be installed nationwide. The boxes will first be sent out to areas deemed a high-security risk throughout the next fiscal year, as USPS continues to evaluate existing boxes.

The increase in robberies targeting letter carriers for their Arrow and Modified Arrow Lock keys, with the intent to open mail receptacles and commit theft or fraud, has pushed the USPS to replace 49,000 arrow locks with electronic locks. New locks have already been installed in select cities, with more to be rolled out.

Preventing Change of Address (COA) Fraud

In the 2022 fiscal year, the postal service said they processed over 33 million COA forms. It says a majority of COA frauds are driven by identity theft motives not related to USPS, but the postal service is implicated when someone intercepts financial mail, credit cards or checks.

Now, it has put in place additional identity-verification processes for both online and in-person in an effort to prevent these incidents.

If you go to fill out the COA form on the USPS website, a red box displaying the following message appears at the top. 

“The U.S. Postal Service is enhancing security protocols surrounding its Change of Address (COA) service by implementing additional identity verification methods. These enhancements are designed to address global identity theft concerns, and to protect our customers’ information. The Change of Address service remains simple and convenient to use. It can be completed in a few steps, online at USPS.com, or by visiting one of more than 33,000 local Post Office locations.”

USPS Website

USPS implemented dual-authentication identity verification to the online COA forms in April.

Effective May 31, USPS will be changing the in-person process for address changes as well. Those looking to change their address will have to present an approved form of identification to a retail clerk to verify their identity.

Anyone completing a COA will also now receive a validation letter at their prior address and an activation letter at their new one, and USPS will not allow third-party COA submissions.

Cracking Down on Counterfeit Postage

The USPS and USPIS reportedly seized more than 340,000 packages with counterfeit postage in 2022, and more than 7.7 million counterfeit stamps with an “estimated $7.8 million loss avoidance for the Postal Service.”

The postal service is now exercising new authority in taking and disposing of packages with counterfeit postage, reviewing shipments on docks and during warehouse outreach visits and shutting down websites or eCommerce accounts selling counterfeit postage.

USPS said it will be engaging and partnering with some eCommerce companies and collaborating with Customs and Border Protections to disrupt counterfeit activity.

Promoting the Inspection Service’s rewards program, which they say “provides rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a person that unlawfully uses, reuses, or forges postage stamps, postage meter stamps, permit imprints, or other postage; or uses, sells, or possesses with the intent to sell any used, forged, or counterfeit postage stamp or other postage,” will also be a priority or the USPS and USPIS to crack down on counterfeit postage.

USPS said it will continue to partner with law enforcement agencies, at local, federal and state levels, to enforce laws and bring those committing mail theft and fraud, among other mail-related crimes, to justice. It added that it will continue to adapt its protocols for the security of employees and customers.

For more information on the expanded action USPS is taking and what you can do to prevent mail theft, you can see the full release here.