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May 8, 2018

7 Things in Your Mailbox That Can Be Used to Steal Your Identity, and 11 Ways to Protect Yourself

Identity theft is a serious problem, and it’s getting worse. According to Javelin’s 2018 Identity Fraud Report, identity fraud enabled criminals to steal $16.8 billion in 2017. Almost 17 million U.S. consumers experienced identity fraud in 2017, an 8% increase over 2016.

While many of those instances used information obtained through online data breaches, good old-fashioned paper mail is still one of the easiest ways for criminals to get access to the data they need to steal your identity.

Here are 7 things you might receive via mail that could contain confidential information.

  1. Credit card offers: Those envelopes from credit card companies stamped “You’re already approved!” are a gold mine for identity thieves. Many of them include preprinted application forms with your name, address and other identifying details. A fraudster can easily use it to apply for the credit card in your name then change the address so you never see the bills.
  2. Charitable solicitations: Charities spend millions on mailings asking for money, and they are targeting you for a reason. Either you’ve donated to that charity before or your name is on a prospective donor list from some other charity, organization, or information broker. Either way, the information they have about you could be included in the mailing and could be used to steal your identity if it falls into the wrong hands.
  3. Bills: Phone or utilities fraud is the third-most popular type of identity theft. Stealing a phone, cable, or utility bill from your mailbox gives identity thieves access to your name, address, and account number, which they can use to open another account.
  4. Bank account statements: Bank fraud is another common method of identity theft. Using a bank statement obtained from your mailbox, a criminal can either take over an existing financial account or open a new one in their own name.
  5. Membership offers: Groups such as AAA and AARP that send you mail offering you membership often know a lot about you, including your name, address, age, and other details that can be used to steal your identity.
  6. Tax documents: If there’s one document that has more personal information about you than any other, it’s your tax return. Not only does it have your name, birth date, employment information, and Social Security number, it could also include account numbers, property information and other data that could be stolen and used to commit theft and fraud.
  7. Bank checks: Blank checks preprinted with your name, address and bank account number give a criminal direct access to your bank accounts—they won’t even need to steal your identity, they can just write checks for cash in your name.

To keep your information safe, follow these 11 safeguards:

  1. Collect your mail promptly every day—don’t let it sit in the mailbox overnight.
  2. Send outgoing mail by depositing it in an official blue collection box or use the slots at a U.S. Post Office rather than leaving it in your home mailbox with the flag up.
  3. If you are going out of town, have the Post Office hold your mail, or ask a friend or trusted neighbor to collected it for you.
  4. Consider installing a residential locking security mailbox, which has a slot to allow mail carriers to deposit mail but must be unlocked with a key to remove mail.
  5. If you see or suspect mail theft, call Postal Inspectors immediately at 877-876-2455.
  6. If you run a business out of your home or receive a large amount of mail containing confidential personal information, consider renting a locked mailbox at a U.S. Post Office or third-party secure mail facility.
  7. Opt out of receiving unsolicited credit or insurance offers by calling 888-5-OPT-OUT or visiting optoutprescreen.com.
  8. Reduce the amount of marketing mailings and catalogs you receive by registering at DMAchoice.org, which lets you choose what mail you do and do not want to receive.
  9. Sign up for the electronic delivery options for any financial statements or regular bills, so no paper bills or statements ever reach your mailbox.
  10. Pay your bills electronically.
  11. Don’t throw out or recycle junk mail or any documents containing personal information. To keep your data secure, always shred documents using a professional shredding service.

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