U.S. Postal Inspector Career Profile
Every year, people across the country fall victim to various fraudulent schemes that they received through the mail. That Nigerian prince who wants to split his fortune with you? Chances are good he doesn't exist. The chain letter promising untold riches if only you send $10 back to the original sender and then forward the letter to 10 of your friends? Bad news: It's a scam. Fortunately, the United States Postal Service has an elite group of agents, known as postal inspectors, who are specially trained to fight fraud and protect the integrity of the mail service.
The United States Postal Inspection Service traces its history back to Benjamin Franklin, the first Postmaster General. The post office and the postal inspection service are older than the United States itself, predating both the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. By some reckonings, this makes the service the oldest law enforcement agency in the U.S., ahead of the U.S. Marshals Service.
From its inception, the postal inspection service has been tasked with fighting fraud and other crimes that are carried out or occur through the mail and postal system. The U.S. has over 200 laws that regulate mail, and the postal inspection service is responsible for the enforcement and regulation of those laws.
Investigators with the postal inspection service were first called surveyors, and then special agents. In fact, the service was the first agency to use the title "special agent," before the title was finally changed to inspector in the late 19th century. The service employs nearly 1,000 inspectors and over 600 uniformed officers, as well as a professional staff of forensic science technicians.
Job Functions and Work Environment of Postal Inspectors
Postal inspectors are specialized government agents who are tasked with investigating all allegations of criminal activity that pertain to or affect the United States Postal Service and mail system. They work throughout the United States and the world to stop fraud and mail-related crimes.
Postal inspectors and uniformed postal officers are also responsible for ensuring the safety of postal service employees around the country, as well as the safety and integrity of the mail itself. Postal inspectors are fully empowered federal law enforcement agents. They carry firearms and have the power and authority to make arrests.
The postal inspection service is specifically tasked with investigating the following types of crimes:
- Mail fraud
- Mail theft
- Money laundering
- Identity fraud
- Mail and mailbox destruction
- Obstruction of mail
- Counterfeit stamps
In addition to those listed above, the postal inspection service has a large role in investigating instances of child exploitation through enforcement of the Comstock Act, which regulates the distribution of obscene materials through the mail. This is one of the primary statutes used to fight child pornography, and the service has been recognized as a leader in the fight to protect children.
The postal inspector service has taken the lead in investigating fraud through electronic means such as email and websites. They also investigate misuse and theft of equipment, such as credit card scanners, secured computers, and financial and identification information.
Postal inspectors must be willing to relocate and work anywhere the service has a presence. Inspectors have a wide variety of duties, including:
- Making arrests
- Preparing reports
- Providing courtroom testimony
- Preparing and executing arrest and search warrants
- Conducting extensive investigations
- Working closely with other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies
Aspiring postal inspectors must be between the ages of 21 and 37 prior to appointment, with the exception of retired military personnel or current federal employees. They must also be U.S. citizens and hold a valid driver's license. They must have a clean background, with no prior convictions for felonies or misdemeanor domestic violence. All applicants must possess at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited university.
Candidates participate in an assessment center to measure their ability to clearly read, speak, and write English. They will also be required to demonstrate the ability to comprehend oral and written directions, interpret verbal and nonverbal communication, identify relevant facts, and interact with other people professionally to gather information.
Postal inspector candidates who meet the minimum requirements will undergo several assessments, including an eye exam, medical physical, and physical abilities test. They will also be required to submit to an extensive background investigation and a polygraph exam. Inspectors who are hired attend a 12-week training course at the agency's Career Development Unit in Potomac, Maryland.
Job Growth and Salary Outlook
Obtaining a job as a postal inspector is highly competitive. Applications are accepted only periodically, and jobs are highly sought after. Like FBI agents, postal inspectors are hired through one of four special knowledge tracks:
- Language skills
- Past postal experience
- Non-postal special experience (such as prior law enforcement, military, or investigative)
- Academic achievement, including a high GPA and advanced degrees
Candidates who do not fall into one of these special knowledge categories are unlikely to be hired.
Depending on education level and experience, postal inspectors can expect to earn between $41,000 and $78,000 annually in base salary, plus extra pay based on law enforcement availability (LEAP) and locality.
Is a Career Right for You?
With a wide range of duties and investigative responsibilities, working as a postal inspector is sure to provide challenges and variety. Inspectors work long and irregular hours, but they serve an important role in protecting the vulnerable from fraud and maintaining the integrity of our business and personal communications. It these duties sound appealing, then a job as a postal inspector may just be the perfect criminology career for you.