Around the holidays, law enforcement agencies often field an uptick in reports of mail theft.

With packages containing presents arriving on doorsteps and mailboxes stuffed with holiday gift cards or cash, postal mail can turn out to be quite the payday for a petty thief. Unfortunately, the savvier criminals in the bunch also know that the package or card he stole can provide some of the pieces of your identity puzzle.

Police in Benton County, WA, have received an increased number of identity theft complaints in the weeks following the holiday mail rush, which the sheriff attributes to mail theft. After all, if you’re breaking federal law by stealing a card out of a mailbox, there’s nothing stopping you from stealing a tax form, pay stub, a medical bill, or an insurance statement, all of which can contain identifying information.

Fortunately, there are a number of steps consumers can take at the mailbox to help reduce the likelihood of theft, and hopefully reduce their risk of identity theft as a result. First, officers pointed out that raising the red mailbox flag is an immediate sign that there’s outgoing mail in your box. You’re less likely to notice that mail going missing than your incoming mail since the whole point was for it to be taken away. Anytime you have sensitive mail, tax documents, bills with checks, or other important letters, it’s a better idea to drop them in a blue USPS mailbox.

If you know that your mailbox will be unattended for long periods of time—say, you work long hours or out of town—or if your mailbox isn’t in plain sight of a lot of neighbors, you might consider investing in a post office box. With an annual fee starting around $50, it can give you peace of mind about where your important papers are going to be delivered

Finally, be aware that some stolen pieces of mail might just be the beginning. If you notice that you’ve gone several days without receiving any mail, you may be the victim of a change of address scam. In any case, no matter how big or small the theft, it’s important to report it to your local law enforcement agency, to contact your bank, and to get copies of your credit report.

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