Watch Out for What Comes in the Mailbox
With the near-constant news of data breaches, identity theft, and other cybercrimes, it’s easy to forget that “old-fashioned” means of nabbing your identifying information are still a threat. One of the earliest and most effective non-technological tools of the identity theft trade is sitting right at the edge of your driveway.
In those early days, your mailbox offered a wealth of information to an identity thief. Incoming mail like credit card offers, bank statements, doctor’s bills, health insurance statements, and the old Social Security statements—just to name a few different types—were practically a jigsaw puzzle of your identity. Your outgoing mail was just as troublesome, as bills you paid had your account numbers on them and checks you wrote had your bank account information. Check washing, the practice of removing your payee information or altering the amount, allowed thieves to write themselves a nice fat check out of your account, while the check itself provided them with a copy of your valid signature.
But mailbox theft is still a threat, and one such crime is the change of address fraud. In this version, someone goes to the post office or uses the postal service website to issue a change of address for your mail. Their first step, though, is to place a temporary hold on your mail to prevent you from finding out that your mail has been re-routed.
Therefore, if you notice that you’ve gone two or three days without receiving any mail whatsoever, it’s a good idea to check in with the post office and see if your address has any changes pending. That is, of course, only if you regularly receive mail every day.
Wait a minute…Can a thief just walk into any post office and change my address?
Sort of. The post office requires a valid credit card as a form of verification, so guess how the thief got a credit card in your name? That’s right, by stealing a credit card application from your mailbox and making a few adjustments. It’s also possible he had already gained access to one of the credit card numbers in your wallet through other means of fraud.
There are some steps you can take that can help protect you from mailbox crimes. Try not to let your mail pile up in your mailbox, giving someone access to a wide variety of identifying documents. With the potential for higher-than-usual volumes of mail at the holidays, be on the watch for multiple mail deliveries; it could be the post office trying to keep up with the workload, but it could be a thief making the rounds to steal mail from your box. Shred any important documents before discarding them—those credit card offers are just as accessible to a thief in your outside trash can as they are in your mailbox—and if your mail consistently contains very sensitive documents like investment forms or work-related correspondence, you might consider a post office box or a locking mailbox for your home address.
As always, anyone who believes their identity has been stolen or their personal data has been compromised is invited to connect with the ITRC through our toll-free call center at (888) 400-5530, or on-the-go with the new IDTheftHelp app for iOS and Android.
Read next: Identity Theft: Finding Help at the Holidays