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
Credit Karma has free credit report access and free credit monitoring , so you can take early notice if you’ve become a victim of identity theft by getting a lead on suspicious activity.
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?
Other helpful mail-related things:
if you give your magazines to your doctors’ office, rip off your name and address. I heard that it’s really easy to call up the magazine company to swindle information about your account from that means.
I don’t understand exactly how a PO box is helpful… could someone explain that?
Ok so I am huge into cybersecurity, and talk about the nature of requesting your bills via email! Be careful – get virus protection, don’t lose your laptop, don’t reply to requests for your information unless you initiated it, only login to the trusted websites by typing it in each time (don’t use auto fill), check the company’s policy about storing customer information, oh tons more!
Interesting tip on magazines. I have given away at garage sales and to the library in the past and had not even thought of that. Aye!
Recently, I’ve gotten two notices in the mail for offers of credit with my company name and my home address, but addressed to an a name of a person that I don’t know. Is someone trying to open credit in my name?
On another note, I’ve been receiving catalogs at my home addressed to someone other than me. Is this a red flag? What should I do?
With a PO Box, the only people that you need to worry about are the postal workers. Otherwise, any person can open your mailbox and take whatever is in it (unless it’s a locking box). It is a federal offense, but if their goal is to steal your identity, then they probably don’t care too much about that.
Yes all true and true there are so many other important steps that could be taken. However I wonder about the policy on storing information. I don’t think I know of any company that doesnt store information. Any company that extends you a line of credit has you SSN including utility companies. Any company you set up auto bill pay with (not recommended) has your credit card or bank information. The point I’m trying to make is I don’t think any company purges their system of your information. I doubt they do for years after closing your account with them either. In this digital world I don’t think there is any way around it.
I know when I worked as a computer tech at a retail store 4 years ago there was talk of a federal law mandating all data stored on a server was to be encrypted. However, since I got out of that field I never heard if it went through. It definately should have.
Thanks for the info about my credit info. I want to put my info in for how to stop ID fraud Is this site safe to put in? Thanks
Love what you do. How about a post on what to do if your identity gets stolen? What if fraudsters are using someone’s social security number to open utility/phone/cable accounts? How does one stop them?