Your mail can be a valuable target for identity thieves. What is mail theft? Mail theft is a felony that occurs when someone steals, takes, or abstracts your mail. Mail thieves can mine your mail for cash and checks, and also to obtain personal information that can be used to commit identity theft.
In this article, you’ll learn about these three topics:
- Types of personal information thieves can collect
- How thieves can use your information to commit identity theft
- How to help protect yourself against mail theft
Types of personal information thieves can collect
Your mail may contain important details about you and your financial accounts. These individual pieces of your personally identifiable information can be combined by a mail thief to commit a variety of crimes.
Here’s a partial list of information thieves might collect:
- Name and address
- Social Security number
- Telephone numbers
- Email address(es)
- Credit card and bank account information
- Pre-approved credit card offers
- Employment history
How thieves can use your information to commit identity theft
Once a thief has gathered stolen personal information, that thief may choose a specific path to profit—for instance, obtaining a credit card in your name and running up charges. Another option? An identity thief may sell the information to a fraudster or crime ring. Either way, your data could be used illegally in a lot of ways, including these:
- Identity theft
- Employment-related fraud
- Loan fraud/payday loan fraud
- Bank fraud
- Benefits fraud
- Tax refund fraud
How to help protect yourself against mail theft
Here are 20 tips.
- Review your consumer credit reports annually. Check for accounts you didn’t open and other signs of fraud. You have access to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. To access your free reports, visit com.
- Shred unwanted documents that contain personal information before throwing them out.
- Deposit mail in U.S. Postal Service collection boxes or give it directly to your mail carrier.
- Don’t leave mail in your mailbox overnight or on weekends.
- Never give personal information over the phone or the Internet unless you initiated the contact.
- Check expiration dates on credit cards. Contact the issuer if you don’t get a replacement before they expire.
- Sign your new credit cards.
- Match credit card receipts against monthly bills and check financial statements for accuracy.
- Notify the U.S. Postal Service if you’re changing addresses or leaving town and want your mail held.
- Anticipate the arrival of a valuable letter. If it’s late, notify the sender right away. Notify your local post office if you believe it has been stolen.
- Consider a U.S. Postal Service post office box. Thieves are more likely to target unwatched neighborhood boxes. A post office box is likely a more secure option if your mail has been stolen repeatedly.
- Don’t send cash or sensitive information through the mail.
- Be watchful for suspicious characters around your neighborhood mailboxes. Report anyone loitering or behaving strangely near your mailbox.
- If you see mail theft in progress, call the police. Next, call the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455. You can also make a report online.
- Watch for patterns—for instance, if your mail repeatedly fails to arrive. Alert the sender if you didn’t receive a check you were expecting. Call your bank or credit card company if you ordered a replacement card that hasn’t arrived.
- Beware of fake changes of address. Thieves sometimes file a change of address form to access your mail. The U.S. Postal Service will send a validation letter to your old and new address when a change is filed. If you did not file the change, follow the letter’s instructions and call to alert Postal Inspectors of the bogus request. As for a legitimate change of address, you can do it online at usps.com for $1. Or, you can change your address for free with a trip to the post office or by phone. Call 1-800-275-8777.
- Talk to your postal carrier about when the mail is delivered. That way, you’ll know when to pick it up.
- Check your mail closely. Don’t throw away letters from banks, credit card companies, utilities or businesses without reading them. You may receive a bill or statement for an account you don’t recognize. In that case, call the company to inquire.
- Switch to paperless billing and statements online to reduce the amount of sensitive information you receive in the mail.
- Talk to your neighbors. They may not realize that their mail may have been stolen, too. It helps to have everyone on guard. You might consider starting a neighborhood-watch group.
Mail theft is a federal, felony crime, and anyone convicted of mail theft could face up to five years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000. Thieves take that risk. That’s a reminder you have something valuable to protect, especially when it comes to your identity.
Editor’s note: This content was lightly edited and updated on April 9, 2018.