10 Ways to Avoid Mail Identity Theft – How Does it Work?

Thief is stealing other people's mail at night

Personal data is one of the most valuable information resources that anyone has. For this reason, information and data theft are continuously on the rise. The United States Department of Justice defines identity theft as a crime where an unauthorized individual gains access to and uses another person’s data to commit fraud or deception.

While cybercrime now presents the highest risk of identity theft, mailboxes are some of the most vulnerable points for offline identity theft. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) every day handles almost 182 million items of mail every day, creating many opportunities for criminals to intercept mail.

What is Mail Identity Theft?

Mail identity theft is where someone unlawfully accesses another individual’s sensitive information from physical mail. These documents often contain valuable personal data, which criminals can use for fraudulent activity or access private platforms.

Some of the information sent via mail includes financial account details or other identifiers that can be used to commit crimes. The most common pieces of information that identity thieves go after include full names, addresses, social security numbers (SSN), phone numbers, email addresses, credit card details, financial and banking account information, employment details, and your welfare status.

A missing piece of mail from time to time may seem inconspicuous. However, when placed in the wrong hands, private information can be used to commit serious crimes. Whether the criminal uses your information to create a fake ID for themselves or sells it illegally, identity theft contributes to an abundance of fraudulent activity, including bank fraud, tax fraud, employment-related fraud, and insurance fraud.

Mail theft is a severe offense and is regarded as a federal felony crime. Punishments can involve a 5-year prison sentence plus a fine of up to $250,000.

Anyone receiving physical mail regularly should take preventative action to minimize the risk of identity theft.

Read Also: Reasons Behind the Increasing ID Theft Crimes in America

Burglar looking for unattended homes during the holiday season

Ways to Avoid Mail Identity Theft

Unfortunately, identity theft can happen at any time. Your data may be stolen through a phishing email, a data breach from your bank, or if a confidential letter is intercepted from your mailbox. There is no guarantee that identity theft won’t occur. However, taking action can significantly reduce the risk. Fortunately, the ways to avoid mail identity theft are straightforward and affordable.

Precaution can also be a very useful way to avoid these ID thefts and what better way to do that than to get a plan for it?

1. Avoid Junk Mail

Paper junk mail is not only bad for the environment, but it also makes you more of a target for mail identity theft. The more mail you receive, the better chance a thief has at finding valuable information. There are several practical ways of avoiding or reducing junk mail:

2. Call Your Credit and Debit Card Issuers

While it may be tempting to cancel your cards straight away to prevent thieves from accessing your funds, it’s wiser to contact your card issuer and let them know the situation first. This is because canceling cards can start processes that could leave you in a mess financially, as well as compromise your credit score.

3. Call Your Credit and Debit Card Issuers

While it may be tempting to cancel your cards straight away to prevent thieves from accessing your funds, it’s wiser to contact your card issuer and let them know the situation first. This is because canceling cards can start processes that could leave you in a mess financially, as well as compromise your credit score.

  • Contact credit card providers and ask them to remove your name and address from the mailing list. Fortunately, you can be removed from the primary credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) mailing lists by calling one 24-hour number.
  • Although GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) has made marketing lists more challenging to gather, you may be on a mailing list from a competition, subscription, or purchase that you made. Request that your name be removed from such companies’ mailing lists.
  • A “NO JUNK MAIL” sign is sometimes ignored, but it is often helpful in reducing the volume of junk mail you receive.

4. Clear Your Mailbox Daily

Leaving letters and packages in your mailbox for extended periods is risky. The longer the mail stays in the box, the more vulnerable it is to thieves. Ensure you remove all letters and packages promptly to reduce the risk of theft. If you plan on spending a few days away from your home, ask a trustworthy neighbor, family member, or friend to collect it on your behalf.

5. Pay Attention to Delivery Dates

It’s beneficial to have a rough idea of when mail usually arrives. That way, you can spot irregularities that occur. If your weekly or monthly bill is unusually late, it could be a sign it was stolen. At this point, you should contact the company to check on your statement.

Another ploy carried out by identity thieves is switching your mailing address. This tactic may also be a problem if your mail doesn’t arrive.

6. Put a Lock on Your Mailbox

A locking mailbox is a special box that has an attached lock. Only someone with a key can access the mail. Alternatively, you can place a locking mechanism on your existing mailbox. However, you must ensure the entire structure is secured, or it may be stolen.

7. Cut Down on Physical Mail

Many businesses and individuals are making efforts to go paperless. Some companies even offer customers discounts if they subscribe to e-billing or other paperless services. Reducing the number of paper bills minimizes the risk of mail identity theft, and it helps eliminate waste.

8. Shred Mail Before Dumping

Your mailbox is not the only place where mail identity theft can occur. Thieves have been known to rummage through dumpsters and recycling bins in search of private documents. You must be careful about getting rid of bank statements, bills, and other mail that contain important information.

The safest way to ensure your data remains secure when you throw it out is to shred it after use. A decent shredder is quite affordable and can go a long way in protecting your mail.

If you choose to keep mail, ensure that you file it away safely in a filing cabinet. Many come with locks for added security in the event of a home burglary.

9. Use a P.O. Box

If you’re worried about mail identity theft in your area or you spend a lot of time away from your home address, a P.O. box is an excellent option for receiving mail. A P.O. box is a private, lockable box used to receive mail usually situated at a post office.

10. Be Careful When Sending Mail

Precaution should also be taken when sending mail. If you’re posting essential documents or letters containing sensitive information, ensure you deliver them directly to your local post office, place them in a collection box, or hand them to your mail carrier.

Don’t Take a Chance With Suspicious Activity

Identity theft can have catastrophic results for your financial, professional, and personal life. Don’t allow your information to be stolen due to carelessness. While not all fraud is avoidable, you can reduce the risk significantly with minimal action. If you suspect you’ve been a victim of mail identity theft, don’t take any chances. Alert the authorities immediately to minimize the potential consequences.

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