December 19, 2011

Identity Theft Part I: Through the mail

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George G. Nathan Law Offices
Identity Theft Lawyer
Identity Theft is one of the fastest growing crimes that can have lasting devastating effects on the person whose identity was stolen. “It can occur when a criminal steals personal identifying information such as name, birth date, Social Security number or your mother’s maiden name and uses it for their own gain.”[i] The three main locations identity thieves obtain your sensitive information is from 1) mail, 2) trash, and 3) computer/Internet. In a four-part series, Security Checks will look at ways to minimize your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft. This post will look at how identity thieves steal your information through the mail.
Mail. Lots of sensitive information comes through our mail, like bank statements, and credit card offers, which explains why mail makes a lucrative target to an identity thief. Most identity theft starts with stolen mail. Identity thieves shift through mail looking for:
- Identifying numbers, such as Social Security Number, bank account number, medical account identification numbers.
- Passwords: Banking account online access password, computer passwords.
- Names: Mother’s maiden name
- Mailing addresses (current and past addresses)
- Personal checks you wrote to pay bills – they will alter the checks and cash them
- Credit cards – they’re usually fairly successful in using the 800 number to activate new cards.[ii]
Opt out of pre-screening credit offers at https://www.optoutprescreen.com/?rf=t to reduce the amount of mail with your sensitive information. It is a simple process that only takes a couple of minutes. OptOutPrescreen.com is the official Consumer Credit Reporting Industry website to accept and process requests from consumers to Opt-in or out of firm offers of credit or insurance. While it will not totally stop all pre-approved offers, it will significantly reduce the amount coming into your mailbox.
If available, opt to have electronic statements in lieu of paper copies mailed to you. Many banks and credit cards provide this option, some even offer an incentive to go this route. Again, reducing the overall volume of mail with your sensitive personal information on it, reduces your risk.
Don’t place outgoing mail in your mailbox. Instead drop it off at an official Postal Service collection box or directly at the Post Office.
Don’t go with the traditional mailbox; get a mailbox that locks. Once the mail carrier drops off your mail in the mailbox, what is keeping it secure until you pick it up? Better yet, go with a P.O. Box if you can.
If you’re going on vacation, notify the Post Office to hold your mail. For the U.S. Post Office, you can call 1-800-275-8777 or go online to https://holdmail.usps.com/holdmail/.
If you noticed your mail was stolen, report it immediately to the police.
Related posts:
Identity Theft Part II: Through the trash
Identity Theft Part III: Through the computer
Identity Theft Part IV: Additional protection measures

[i] “Identity Theft Prevention” Seattle Police Department. Retrieved from http://www.seattle.gov/police/prevention/theft/id_theft.htm (accessed December 19, 2011)
[ii] “How a Mail Thief Operates” Montclair Safety and Improvement Council. Retrieved from  http://montclairsic.org/howthievesoperate.htm (accessed December 19, 2011)

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