Master Key Theft

A Key to the City? Thieves Again Appear to Use USPS Key to Enter Chicago Buildings

46th Ward Alderman said two or three properties in his ward had mail stolen by someone using a USPS master key

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Uptown resident Alicia Hawley says she can’t believe how quick postal thieves got in and out of her condo building.

“Three minutes, from start to finish,” said Hawley, the president of her condo association. “One person was carrying U.S. postal bins. The other person had the key. It tells me it was a coordinated effort..that it was planned, and they knew what they were doing.”

Hawley said the burglary was especially suspicious because, after reviewing footage from the building’s surveillance cameras, she saw a mail carrier dropped off a bag of mail the day before without putting it into individual mailboxes, which Hawley thought made it easier to steal.

“We’ve never had that happen before,” Hawley said. “She dropped off the mail and left it there, and they were able to come in later that night and just grab it instead of fish it out of every mailbox.”

Security professional Seth Strong said that he first started receiving calls about the postal thefts six months ago.  

“About one month ago it became a real problem where people were demanding us to fix their problem immediately,” said Strong, of Ashland Security Lock and Security Solutions.  

Strong installed the condo buildings’ state of the art security system like he does in most residential buildings, but added an old fashioned lock to give postal carriers access to old fashioned keys that experts say can be easily copied.  

"...It was planned, and they knew what they were doing.”

Alicia Hawley, Uptown resident

“It makes it very frustrating because we are trying to make a secure environment for a multiple unit building and at the end of the day, we’re stuck putting this old technology in this brand new application,” Strong said.

NBC 5 Investigates reached out to the post office to ask why they haven’t changed its locks or warned customers about the recent thefts, but a spokesperson declined our requests for an interview. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is investigating the federal crimes.

The West Loop area in Chicago is considered one of the hottest neighborhoods on the edges of downtown, but a recent rash of burglaries at several apartments has residents alarmed. NBC 5’s Rob Stafford Investigates.

46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman, who represents the area, said in a statement that his office was notified of at least two or three properties that had their mail stolen from someone with a USPS master key.

“It's incredibly troubling that either a Federal Postal employee is using their work key to steal from the public, or that a key got into the hands of a criminal,” Cappleman added. “I'm thankful for the information these buildings are providing to the Chicago Police Department, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). We trust the USPS with packages and privileged mail delivery, and we have the highest expectations that Federal authorities will swiftly take corrective actions to prevent this from occurring again.”

Alicia Hawley, the Uptown resident and condominium associated president, said she wasn’t waiting for the government to take action and had Strong reprogram their locks to block the postal keys from working overnight when thefts are more likely to occur.

She said she’s grateful that no one walked in on the crime.

“If someone happened to walk down and see a mail carrier in the mailroom at 3:30 in the morning and thought it was suspicious, you don’t know how  quickly that is going to escalate,” Hawley said. “Do they have weapons, would it turn violent, get hurt? You don’t know what’s going to happen.”

NBC 5's Rob Stafford lives in one of the condo buildings that has been broken into using a master postal key.

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