Despite knowing about the threat of identity theft from improperly secured mail as early as 2003, Canada Post waited years to start changing the locks on its mailboxes, CTV News has learned.

Even now, the company has replaced only about one third of the mailbox locks in B.C.'s Lower Mainland, its security staff said, leaving many open to break-ins from easily forged keys.

"The locks were a very archaic type lock, what I would almost call a stone age type lock," said locksmith Frank Fourchalk, who found forged keys in the locks he was called to fix.

With one key, it's easy to open banks of mailboxes and help yourself to mail -- bank statements, credit card applications, and bills, he said.

It's a feast for an identity thief, who needs to get their hands on only a fraction of that number in order to con banks and steal money -- and then make an easy living of thousands of dollars a day.

"You can just help yourself to it," said Fourchalk.

But Jag Sumra, head of security for Canada Post in B.C., said his company was doing a good job keeping the mail secure.

"I'm very satisfied," said Sumra. "I couldn't be in a better position than I am now."

Canada Post balked at the expense of securing its system in 2003, when a bust of stolen mail prompted CTV News to interview a company spokesman.

"There are 500,000 boxes in the country and to change them all would be a horrendous price -- you can't do that," said Bob Taylor, a spokesman for Canada Post then.

Three years later, Taylor told CTV News that mail was safe: "The integrity of the system is not in question."

But later that year, Canada Post began an ambitious $39-million program of securing mailboxes -- a program that if it keeps going at the current rate will finish by 2012.

The company also doesn't know the extent of the problem of mail theft, because it only keeps statistics of undelivered mail, not of stolen mail.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service -- an arm of law enforcement dedicated to protecting the integrity of the American postal system -- puts the amount of stolen mail on its website.

Without keeping track of the stolen mail, it's very difficult to investigate the problem of mail theft, said U.S. Postal Inspector John Murphy.

"We keep track of stolen mail because we care about our customers," he said.

Canada Post told CTV News that once mail has been delivered, it's not the agency's responsibility any longer -- meaning that the company downloads the investigation to local law enforcement.

"The Canada Post Corporation guards mail from the time it is posted to the time it is delivered," said Sumra. "Once it is in a mailbox, it is no longer mail, it is personal property."

The U.S. Postal Inspectors take a different view, said Murphy.

"Once the mail gets in the system and has a name on it, it gets to that person, once that person gets the mail we're satisfied we've done our job," he said.

With a report by CTV British Columbia's Jonathan Woodward