Mail Theft and Identity Theft

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Every day, identity thieves get another 668 million chances to commit identity theft and steal someone's identity. That's the average number of pieces of mail the Post Office delivers every day, and each one presents a potential opportunity for ID theft.

Postal inspectors around the country are swamped with investigations into all kinds of mail theft, from basic crimes like pilfering a few mailboxes, to very organized ID thefts that can include the manufacturing of postal uniforms and even the theft of mail trucks.

Of course, there are all types of opportunists out there — everything from scam artists to drug users, looking for anything of value that can translate into fast cash or a quick fix. In many ways these can be the most dangerous ID thefts, because the perpetrators typically don't have a pattern. They just grab any opportunity that they stumble upon. We're also seeing smaller criminal gangs becoming better organized, often studying mail routes and pickup and drop-off schedules to determine the best and safest time to hit many mailboxes at once.

Some are even going to extreme lengths to steal from the more secure "Blue Mailboxes," literally pulling them from their concrete posts by tying a chain to the back of a car and driving off. Impersonation of mail staff may also be on the rise, as criminals assume the identities of mail carriers so they won't arouse too much attention hanging around mailboxes.

In a number of raids in California, discarded postal employee uniforms were found amongst piles of forged documents and bags of stolen mail, suggesting that impersonating mail carriers is an effective tactic for thieves. In Oakland, California, residents reported numerous sightings of a white Jeep that looked like a mail van, approaching mail boxes in the neighborhood. What aroused people's suspicions about these thieves was that the Jeep usually approached immediately after the mail had been delivered.

While this type of mail theft — hijacking of mail trucks and vans — is still pretty rare, it is still a trend. A single heist of an unprotected vehicle, for example, can yield thousands of identities, checks and other valuable cargo.

Mail theft by neighbors is not unusual either. In fact, extensive media coverage may have attracted many new criminals to identity theft and educated them on how to make some quick money from it. What's even worse is that many of these offenders don't think such actions are really crimes, and they don't see themselves as actual criminals. After all, who knows when mail is being delivered on your street better than your neighbors?

The theft of mail from businesses is also on the rise. Incoming and outgoing mail can contain dozens of checks, new blank checkbooks, financial records from the firm's CPA, credit card and bank statements, employee payroll records and a wealth of other information.

Any business that has a lot of foot traffic is vulnerable to a confident stranger simply walking in and picking up a pile or a bag of mail and walking out. The theft can be by an opportunist, an organized gang selecting specific targets, a contractor or supplier, an employee, friend or family member. The list is endless, and so are the opportunities.

So how do you combat these problems and create protection from identity theft?

Here are some identity theft tips and ways to prevent identity theft to get you started:

  • Avoid having your mail delivered to a curbside mail box. Instead, have it delivered to your front door.
  • If you must have mail delivered to a curbside mailbox, make sure it's a secure mailbox, with a lock that is firmly secured into the ground.
  • Try to collect your mail as soon as possible every day to minimize the amount of time thieves have to steal it.
  • Avoid sending checks and paying bills by mail — try online instead — and minimize the number of financial statements and checkbooks that you have delivered by mail.
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