Inspectors are tasked with safeguarding not only funds that move through the mail, but also combatting the criminal misuse of money orders and postage. When mailers fail to pay proper postage or attempt to mail items at lower-than-required rates, the U.S. Postal Service, funded by sales, not tax revenue, loses critical funds. Inspectors work with postal groups and mailers to detect false claims and criminal schemes. When losses are sustained, inspectors investigate those postage shortfalls and improper or fraudulent mailings.
In order to recover lost revenue, inspectors identify and prosecute dishonest mailers who avoid proper payment of postage. They also work with and educate postal employees about potential revenue fraud schemes so they can be alert to and report potential problems.
Money Order Security Features
The Post Office Department began issuing money orders in 1863, as a secure alternative to mailing cash. Criminals see money orders as tempting targets. They have tried stealing blank money orders from post offices, altering information, and creating counterfeits.
The U.S. Postal Service sells more than $150 million worth of money orders annually. Inspectors and forensic experts at the National Forensic Laboratory are constantly working with the Postal Service to improve security features for postal money orders. These features make counterfeits easier to spot and harder to create. Legitimate postal money orders have a woven security thread printed with the letters “USPS.” They also feature a watermark of Benjamin Franklin’s portrait that is only visible when the paper is held up to the light. Typically the counterfeits are printed with less intricate detail and lack the fine features of authentic money orders.
Postal inspectors also work to prevent counterfeit postal money orders from entering the country. In 2012, Inspectors seized 102,000 counterfeit money orders with a face value of nearly $98 million mailed to the U.S. from criminals overseas.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service works to increase the overall security of the postal system to ensure delivery of the mail at all levels of value. Inspectors also have a long, colorful history of special assignments orchestrating handling of some of the rarest treasures from Fort Knox gold to the Hope Diamond.
Learn more about these shipments today and in history:
The U.S. Postal Service moves millions of dollars of cash and valuables every year. To keep these valuables extra safe, the Postal Service uses special boxes for the “concentration and convoy” of registered mail under controlled conditions. These red and blue containers, “CON-CON” for short, are moved under secured conditions between shippers, the Postal Service, and recipients.
Tracking labels on CON-CON boxes are scanned regularly throughout their journey. Registered shipments are routed on non-stop or direct flights and only during daylight hours. When there are no direct flights, transfers are used only as long as they arrive during daylight hours.
As a matter of national security, the Postal Inspection Service was tapped to plan and supervise the transportation of gold bullion to the depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky, when it opened in 1937. Inspectors had previously coordinated similar shipments, such as the 1934 movement of more than $2 billion in gold coins and bullion from the San Francisco Mint to Denver.(1)
The shipments to Fort Knox came from the New York Assay Office and Philadelphia Mint. Shipments occurred twice a week between January and June 1937. The Postal Inspection Service, Railway Mail Service, U.S. Treasury and U.S. Army worked together to secure the gold en route with an elaborate system of decoy trains, armed inspectors, steel doors, and machine guns.
Sixteen gold bars were placed in each of the metal-banded crates that were closed with rotary locks and noted in registered mail accounts. The packed crates, weighing about 500 pounds each, were moved over specially reinforced platforms onto mail trucks and train cars and offloaded into army trucks. The Post Office Department billed the Treasury Department for transporting the weight of the crates and gold using the fourth class postage rate with added insurance fees. The million dollar postage bill was a mere fraction of the value of the shipment that exceeded $5 billion.(2)
When the Second World War broke out in the Pacific and Europe, nations tried to secure their assets. Gold bullion began to accumulate in the New York depository. In January 1941 the Postal Inspection Service was enlisted again to assist with moving this new shipment to Fort Knox. The cooperative effort this time engaged 37,404 registered mail crates of gold that were loaded on 337 train cars on 45 trains. This gold shipment was valued around $9 billion.(3)
- William A. Kenyon, Bill Kenyon of the Postal Inspectors and Army Postal Service (New York: Exposition Press, 1960) p. 74.
- Ibid. p. 79.
- Albert Goldman, The New York, N.Y. Post Office During the War Years 1941-1945 (New York: Judicial Printing Company, 1949) p. 28.
One of the most unusual duties for the Postal Inspection Service was in the mid-20th century when individual inspectors were assigned to the White House. Postal inspectors helped on investigations involving threatening letters. They also worked with the Secret Service on plans for protecting and keeping the President informed when he left Washington, DC. Travel duties included overseeing the dispatch, delivery, and protection of the President’s mail, using a specially-assigned White House mailbag.
When the President left the White House, the assigned inspector traveled with him. Among the inspectors assigned to this special duty were Louis White and Herbert G. Theurer. On May 1, 1937 Theurer carried the special mailbag from the Galvez Hotel in Galveston, Texas, where President Franklin Roosevelt was staying while on vacation. Theurer brought the bag and its contents to Roosevelt, who was enjoying some offshore fishing aboard the presidential yacht Potomac. Not even a presidential vacation meant rest for the inspectors.
On November 8, 1958, an employee of Harry Winston’s New York City jewelry store mailed an ordinary looking package at the main city post office. The package was anything but ordinary. It held one of the world’s most famous gems, the Hope Diamond. The employee paid $145.29 to mail the package. Postage accounted for only $2.44 of the total cost. The rest was for insurance coverage totaling $1 million. This valuable gem traveled safe and sound to its destination at the Smithsonian through the mail.
The package got to Washington, DC, a day before it was to be delivered in an elaborate ceremony, so it spent the night in the secured registered mail cage (in the very building where the National Postal Museum is now located), with an inspector close by. Letter carrier James G. Todd picked up the package the next morning and made the short trip to the National Museum of Natural History. There, Leonard Carmichael, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, brought Todd into the Gem Hall where reporters and cameras watched as the carrier plucked the valuable package from his mail satchel and presented it to the Secretary.
The diamond settled into its home at the National Museum of Natural History where it remains a star attraction today. The packaging, however, made its way to the collection that became the core of the National Postal Museum, bringing it back to where it rested that peaceful night before the ceremony.
Investigative aides Ralph Espina and LeRoy Kingsland (investigative aides later were converted to postal inspectors) guarded a rather precious piece of mail when this photograph was taken by Inspector George Ross on October 28, 1967. Espina, Kingsland and Ross were on assignment to provide armed escort for a registered mail package from Switzerland to Harry Winston, a New York jeweler. The package arrived at LaGuardia Airport containing precious cargo: a stunning 601-carat uncut diamond, known as the “Lesotho Diamond.”
Inspectors had heard rumors that the Mob planned to hijack the shipment and were determined to keep it secured. Once the airplane carrying the gem landed in New York, the inspectors kept all the passengers on board until the mail was unloaded and the package pulled out safely. Then they drove it—handcuffed to Espina’s wrist—with flashing lights and sirens to the New York City General Post Office. Harry Winston cut the gem into 18 sections: the largest three sections were named Lesotho I, II and III. Aristotle Onassis purchased the 40-carat Lesotho III for Jacqueline Kennedy upon their engagement in 1968.