Hidden Cameras, GPS Data, and License Plate Readers: How the USPIS Tracks Down Mail Thieves

A court record shows how the oft overlooked United States Postal Inspection Service turned to all manner of tech to investigate someone stealing from mailboxes.
Multiple images of the alleged mail thief.
Collage by 404 Media.

This article was produced in collaboration with Court Watch, an independent outlet that unearths overlooked court records.

To track down an alleged mail thief, a US postal inspector used license plate reader technology, GPS data collected by a rental car company, and, most damning of all, hid a camera inside one of the targeted blue post boxes which captured the suspect’s full face as they allegedly helped themselves to swathes of peoples’ mail.

The related court record highlights the oft overlooked role of the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), the law enforcement arm of the USPS, and how they catch mail thieves.

The complaint was written by Carl Swanson, a postal inspector for the USPIS. Swanson believes a man called Adam Bekele used “an Arrow Key” to access blue postal collection boxes. As the court record explains, Arrow Keys are “specialized general access keys capable of opening many different postal boxes.” USPS staff pick up these serialized keys every time they start their shift, and are not allowed to have them outside working hours. Regardless, these keys are often stolen or otherwise fraudulently obtained by people who want to steal mail, the document adds.