More than 11 million people each year become victims of identity theft. Often, that theft occurs at the beginning of the year -- in January.
While media attention focuses on cybercrime, consumers need to remember that identity thieves are still taking advantage of one of the oldest ways to hijack your identity: stealing from your mailbox.
Because of the extensive use of the mail to commit identity theft and credit fraud, the Postal Inspection Service has become a leading agency in investigating these crimes, according to a 2009 USPIS publication.
Why is January so dangerous? Because this is the month that employers, banks and credit card companies mail out all of their year-end documents, including W-2s, 1099 forms, credit card summaries, and brokerage statements. Additionally, on any given day, there are more than one million credit cards in the mail stream, part of the 700 million pieces of mail delivered daily.
People don’t understand that “walkers” follow mail carriers and look through your mail for any bonanza they can find. Mail thieves know the prime time is between 9 am and 3 pm.
Others take advantage of the dark of night and/or consumers’ tendencies of not checking mailboxes each day. Some thieves even go so far as to open the envelopes, copy the documents, then reseal your mail and place it in your box again a day later.
The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) recommends the following precautions:
- Get a P.O. Box at a US Post Office and use this for sensitive mail. The Post Office does background checks on employees and uses surveillance equipment. Note: If you use a service at a store with mail boxes, it is considered delivered once it enters the store.
- During this critical month, have your mail held at the post office, with photo identification required for pick up. This is similar to a “vacation” hold.
- Don’t use the excuse that you always get the mail when it arrives. Postal deliveries are not always at the same time and you can’t make sure you are standing next to your box at the right moment. That 30-second window is all a thief needs.
- Keep a monthly calendar of when items arrive and if they seem delayed, call the sender to find out why. If you suspect mail theft, call the Postal Inspector’s Office immediately. Do not report mail theft to your local Postmaster.
- Consider installing a strong locked mailbox.