In a world where thieves mug grandmas in grocery store parking lots to steal their purses, it’s no surprise that mail identity theft and mail fraud have become very prevalent. Stop and think for a moment about all of the personal identification information that can be taken from your mailbox: name, address, phone number, social security number, bank account number on outgoing checks, credit card number, account numbers at financial institutions, incoming checks, rebates, driver’s license… what can’t some dirtball find out about you through the mail?
It is easy for an identity thief to piece together the puzzle and steal your identity.
There are some easy measures you can take to protect yourself from mail ID theft and other forms of ID theft that come from a paper trail…
1. Cut Down on Junk Mail
Start by limiting inflow. Cut down on the amount of credit card and other offers that even your dog could get approved for:
- De-list your name from the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) list at dmachoice.org.
- Opt out of credit and insurance offers from the three major credit bureaus at optoutprescreen.com. You can opt out for five years or permanently, if you choose.
- Check out my post on how to stop junk mail dead in its tracks for more tips.
2. Shred the Mail you do Receive or Lock it up
Get yourself a good paper shredder, and open every piece of mail that you do get to see if there is anything in there that needs to be shredded. You can find a good one for $40 or less.
Everything that you keep should be kept in a locking file cabinet if you live with others (and even if you don’t).
3. Get a P.O Box or Lock Box
As mentioned earlier, this is one of the most fool-proof ways, if you are concerned about ID theft in your area. You can search for and buy a P.O. Box on the USPS site. Prices vary, but the smallest box option only costs $5/month. That’s not a bad price for the peace of mind it offers.
4. Get a Locking Mailbox
A locking mail box looks very similar to a normal mailbox, but it has a locking mechanism on it. Mail can be put in, but only those with a key can take it out.
This method does have a downside: your ability to send outgoing mail or receive larger packages in the mail is limited.
5. Protect Outgoing Mail
Not only should you safeguard against mail fraud for incoming mail, but you should also be concerned about the outgoing mail. In order of safest, to least safe methods of getting your mail out:
- Drop off at your post office.
- Drop in a collection box.
- Give directly to your mail carrier.
- Put outgoing in your mailbox.
The latter is the one you should probably avoid, particularly if cash or checks are involved.
6. Sign Up for USPS Informed Delivery ASAP
This is a relatively new addition – and everyone should sign up for USPS Informed Delivery ASAP. Informed Delivery is one of 5 government accounts everyone should create. When you sign up for Informed Delivery, you can digitally preview actual photographic images of letter-sized mail pieces that are in the process of being sent to your address or P.O. Box through email notifications, an online dashboard, and mobile apps.
This way you know what to expect to receive in the mail, and if anything doesn’t make it to your mail box.
7. Go Paperless and Track Incoming Bills and Tax Documents
Whenever possible, go paperless with your bills. Most companies are now offering small discounts on your bill (or abstaining from add-on fees) if you simply sign up for e-billing. Cutting down on the paper bills eliminates mail fraud potential, and helps the planet.
For bills or tax documents you can’t prevent, write down everything you should be receiving on an annual basis, and make sure you receive it. If you don’t receive what you were expecting, pay close attention to your credit report for unexpected credit inquiries or new accounts.
8. Get Free Credit Reports and Check them Consistently
Mail Identity Theft Discussion:
- Have you ever been a victim of mail theft or mail fraud? What happened?
- What else do you do to protect yourself from mail identity theft?