The U.S. Postal Service has been under fire for months for a delivery slowdown spurred by changes brought by the new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy.
But the nation’s mail system has also been plagued by a previously undisclosed problem: It has no reliable system for tracking mail theft.
The Postal Service’s law enforcement arm acknowledged the shortcoming after NBC News, prompted by anecdotal accounts of an uptick in mail theft around the country, sought and received mail theft figures through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Postal Inspection Service data showed that mail theft reports soared by 600% over the past three years, from about 25,000 in 2017 to roughly 177,000 through Aug. 24 of this year.
But when asked to explain the apparent explosion in mail theft, the Postal Inspection Service said the figures actually reflected multiple types of customer complaints, not just those involving theft. The agency said it couldn’t provide figures on mail theft alone due to limitations in the internal system it uses to capture customer reports.
“We discovered that the mail theft complaint numbers provided to you were overstated due to the fact they included a significant number of reported customer complaints unrelated to mail theft, such as mailbox vandalism, mail delivery issues, and matters unrelated to the mail or Postal Service,” the agency said in a statement.
“The reporting system allows for an individual to label their complaint as mail theft, however, the system is not designed to automatically discern which of these are legitimate complaints of theft of U.S. mail.”