Check’s out of the mail

May 26, 2010

Though people may think they are beyond the reach of identity thieves, most everyone has a metal target right in front of their house or at least in their neighborhood. That target would be their mailbox. While there’s been a lot in the news about phishing attacks and other electronic forms of identity theft, some still prefer the old fashioned way: committing a little postal fraud.

Don’t start suspecting your mail carrier of shady business. Most identity thieves grab your account statements and other sensitive mail after they’ve been delivered properly. They will either take them from unlocked boxes, find them on the ground if you drop them or they blow away, or wait to get them when they’re on their way out after being delegated to the garbage can or recycling bin.

The bad thing about this type of identity theft is that it’s very common. But the good thing is that it can be easily prevented. Some things you can do to keep the thieves at bay are:

  • Slice, shred or ink out: Don’t throw away papers with the personal information intact. The best option is to shred, but you can also slice through the info with a knife or letter opener or cross it out by using a pen and some pressure. Note that writing over the info with a marker isn’t good enough. The thieves can still read it if they hold the paper at the right angle.
  • Grab the mail ASAP: If you’re home, don’t let it sit in an unlocked box. If you’re not home and you know you’re expecting a sensitive item, ask a trusted neighbor who will be to retrieve your mail for you. Same goes for when you’re on vacation.
  • Look for the big blue box: If you need to send a letter that you don’t want identity thieves to see, don’t gift wrap it for them by placing it in your mailbox and then putting up the flag. Find an official USPS box and drop it there instead. If nothing else, it will give you peace of mind.
  • Go for electronic statements: The less paper statements you get, the better. This not only keeps them from getting in the wrong hands since they don’t make that arduous trip from company to mailbox to trash, but it can also help to save some trees, which is a pretty good thing to.

If it’s too late for the advice and a thief has already nabbed your mail, report the crime to the United States Postal Inspection Service. Mail theft is a felony and if the thief is caught you best believe he or she won’t be trying it again soon.
Sadly, not all thieves are found out though, so signing up for an identity theft protection serviceis probably in your best interests at this point. That way you can be alerted right away if anything funny tries to get past your credit file.