‘It’s a brazen crime’: Armed robbers attack letter carriers for ‘arrow’ keys

CHARLOTTE — Channel 9 has reported on multiple cases over the last year of robbers attacking postal workers while they were delivering mail. Most -- if not all -- of these hold-ups happened in broad daylight.

The criminals are targeting letter carriers’ keys, called “arrow keys,” so they can go around, open big blue mailboxes as well as cluster ones in neighborhoods and apartment complexes, and steal mail, money, and identities.

In one case last year, officers say a robber held up a letter carrier on Music Hall Way in SouthEnd, put a gun to her face, and stole her arrow key. Investigators offered a reward and ended up arresting Kyree Corbett. They say he and accomplices spent months helping themselves to mailboxes and almost $2 million in checks.

A few months ago, Fort Mill police say a man stole an arrow key and broke into mailboxes at the post office on Tom Hall Street. At last check this month, there was still no arrest in the case.

And in another case, federal prosecutors say someone held up a postal worker at gunpoint in 2020 and that Terrell Freeman -- and two other people -- used the stolen key to open mailboxes across the Charlotte area for almost a year and stole 86 checks worth $3 million. All three were sentenced to multiple years behind bars.

Investigators say some of those checks belonged to Piedmont Stairworks, a northwest Charlotte business that makes staircases for homes.

Jim McGee owns the company and says the thieves stole about 25 checks worth more than $138,000.

“That’s pretty significant,” he told Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke. “For a small business, right, to have that much money disappear ... that was a big deal to us.”

McGee’s team had a mess to sort out. “It was a lot of time. A lot of phone calls,” he said.

McGee says Piedmont Stairworks changed how it does business. “You should be able to write a check, sign it, put it in an envelope, and mail it and not think about it again. But now there’s eight other steps that have to happen after that … after you decide to pay somebody,” he said. “We don’t do any hard checks anymore. There are zero hard checks. We have to pay a third-party to cut all our checks so that they’re responsible for it.”

Plus, he says, his business pays for another service to verify the checks which means even more time and money.

Action 9 asked the U.S. Postal Inspection Service how many attacks the Carolinas have had in recent years. It said 44 from the beginning of 2019 through the first half of this year, at least 14 in the Charlotte area.

“It’s a brazen crime,” U.S. Postal Inspector Rick Johnsten said.

He says the Postal Service is working on new policies and procedures to prevent attacks on letter carriers, but that it would be hard to guard all of them on their routes.

“We deliver to 150 million addresses per day. My agency isn’t nearly big enough if we want to investigate also and watch the mail carriers at the same time. So we have to prioritize,” he said.

But the head of the Postal Police Officers Association, Frank Albergo, disagrees.

“In August of 2020, the inspection service released an internal memo which basically ... grounded us, it benched us. We were no longer able to protect postal workers, and we were no longer able to do these proactive mail theft prevention patrols. And since then, mail theft has exploded,” he said.

Plus -- he says -- there was a labor dispute which led to new responsibilities for postal police, mostly patrolling postal facilities, not the streets.

“We also travel from post office to post office, and we will patrol ... lobby. But there’s not much crime in postal lobbies,” he said.

So, just in case your mail gets stolen, keep a close eye on your bank accounts, freeze your credit (if you haven’t already), and follow these Eight Ways to Protect Yourself:

  • Pick up mail quickly. Don’t leave it in the mailbox a long time.
  • If you can’t, use USPS’s hold service.
  • Drop mail in blue boxes close to pickup times. [USPS calls them “blue boxes.”]
  • Better yet, drop off mail inside the post office directly if you’re worried.
  • If you’re expecting money in the mail and don’t get it, don’t hesitate: tell the sender right away.
  • Don’t mail cash.
  • If you move, make sure everyone important has your new address.
  • Use gel pens to write checks. They are hard to erase, especially the uni-ball 207. [Yes, uni-ball is all lower case.] You can get them almost everywhere and they’re pretty cheap: just about $2 each.

Click here for more tips. If you think someone stole your mail, report it by clicking here or by calling the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455.

(WATCH BELOW: Mail carrier credited with saving elderly man’s life in North Carolina)