Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. One of the prime ways in which these ID thieves obtain personal information is by stealing mail.
Believe it or not, your personal mail can be a gold mine to determined criminals.
Crooks from identity thieves to “check washers” see your mail as a virtually bottomless treasure chest from which to pilfer.
How safe is your mail? Take a moment to review this mail security quiz put together by the United States Postal Inspection Service:
1 – My mail is delivered to a community mailbox. The box is locked, so I only pick up my mail once or twice a week. My mail is secure in this box. True or False?
Answer: False. Thieves often break into mailboxes at night and take advantage of customers who don’t pick up their mail. Ask a trusted relative or neighbor to pick up your mail if you cannot.
2 – I live in a gated community. Our mailboxes are in a locked mailroom. Since I travel often, my mail is left in my locked mailbox in the locked mail room. My mail is safe. True or false?
Answer: False. A thief can get into a locked mailroom by pretending to be a resident and following someone with a key into the mailroom. Once they are alone in the mailroom, they can break into the boxes.
3 – I often place my mail in my curbside mailbox and put the red flag up so the letter carrier knows to pick it up. I’m sure my mail is secure as my carrier will be by in a few hours. True or false?
Answer: False. Thieves know very well to look for mailboxes with the red flags up, and they will quickly steal the mail. To help prevent from becoming a “red flag” victim, leave your mail in a blue postal collection box, or at your local post office.
4 – I don’t receive checks, cash or other valuables in the mail, so I can’t be a victim. True or false?
Answer: False. Mail thieves look for items found every day in the mail, such as bank statements and credit card bills, which they use to create counterfeit checks or fake IDs. They also look for personal checks, which they can “wash” clean of handwriting and fill in with new amounts (and make out to themselves). Check your financial statements regularly. If you believe your account has been compromised, notify the financial institution immediate — and report it to a postal inspector.
5 – I receive lots of mail with pre-approved credit card applications, and other mail containing personal information. I throw it all in the trash when I’m done with it. Since it’s in my trash can, it’s safe. True or false?
Answer: False. They are called “dumpster divers” — thieves who go through trash bins looking for mail and any other information they can use to access your financial accounts, or to sell to someone else who wants to access your accounts. Shred all of your personal information before throwing it away.
6 – I live in a safe neighborhood. None of my neighbors have ever had their mail stolen. My mail is safe. It can’t happen to me. True or false?
Answer: False. Mail theft can happen to anyone. Mail theft victims have included police officers, attorneys, judges, and teachers – nearly every occupation imaginable.
7 – I saw a person breaking into our community mailbox. I should call the police to report the crime. True or false?
Answer: True. Call your local police department, and then call 1-800-ASK-USPS for the Postal Inspector nearest you.
A Quick Security Tip: The Postal Inspection Service offers rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of mail theft suspects.
What steps can you take to help make it harder for thieves to steal your mail?
1 – Never send cash or coins in the mail. Use checks and money orders.
2 – Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after delivery, especially if you are expecting checks, credit cards, food coupons or other negotiable items.
A Quick Security Tip: If you won’t be home when items are expected, ask a trusted friend or neighbor to pick up your mail.
3 – If you don’t receive a check or other valuable mail you’re expecting, contact the issuing agency immediately.
4 – If you change your address, immediately notify your post office and anyone with whom you do business via the mail.
5 – Always deposit your mail in a blue Postal Service mail collection box or mail slot at your local post office, or hand it to your letter carrier. Don’t place it for carrier pick up in a mailbox or area where it can be easily stolen.
6 – Have your local post office hold your mail while you are on vacation, or absent from your home for a long period of time.
7 – Consider starting a neighborhood watch program. By exchanging work and vacation schedules with trusted friends and neighbors, you can watch each other’s mailboxes (as well as homes). If you observe a mail theft in progress, immediate call your local police.
For more information, log on to www.usps.gov.
My Final Thoughts: The postal service delivers literally millions of checks, money orders, credit cards, pre-approved credit documents and other valuable items every day. Mail theft thugs know this, and are just waiting to take advantage of your mail treasures.
By following some basic suggestions, you may help protect your mail, and at the same time, make the appalling job of the mail criminal much more difficult.
If you believe your mail was stolen, take the time to immediately report it to your police department, local postmaster or nearest Postal Inspector.
Note: If you manufacture or distribute any security, safety, emergency preparedness or crime prevention related products, please send information on your product line for possible future reference in this column to: CrimePrevention123@yahoo.com.
Copyright 2007 by Bruce Mandelblit
“Staying Safe” with Bruce Mandelblit is a regular column for the readers of NewsMax.com and NewsMax.com Magazine.
Bruce welcomes your thoughts. His email address is: CrimePrevention123@yahoo.com.
Bruce is a nationally known security journalist, as well as a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer.
Bruce writes "Staying Safe," a weekly syndicated column covering the topics of security, safety and crime prevention.
Bruce was commissioned as a Kentucky volonel — the state’s highest honor — for his public service.
This column is provided for general information purposes only. Please check with your local law enforcement agency and legal professional for information specific to you and your jurisdiction.
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