When most of us think about identity theft, we think about computer scams, hackers, and credit card fraud. We don’t usually think of something as old-school as our mailbox—but mail-based identity theft has been around for more than a century, and it’s not likely to go away anytime soon.
In fact, while they payout might not be as great as hacking into a major retailer, mail fraud is an especially attractive crime for the non-tech-savvy criminal. You don’t need to know coding or even how to use a computer. You just have to be patient.
Don’t fall victim to one of the oldest identity theft tactics. Follow these steps to protect yourself from mail fraud:
Step 1: Get your mail as soon as it’s been delivered.
The longer you wait to pick up your mail, the more time an identity thief has to get to it first. As soon as you see your mail carrier go by, head to the mailbox. If you’re at work, get it the moment you come home. Whatever you do, try not to let your mail sit in your mailbox overnight. Once it’s dark, it’s a lot easier for a mail thief to do his work without getting caught.
If you know your mail is sitting in your mailbox for several hours before you can get to it, or you frequently have to leave it past dark, you might consider replacing your existing mailbox with one that has a lock, or renting a private mailbox from your local post office or UPS store.
Step 2: If you have to mail sensitive documents, don’t leave them in your mailbox.
That little red flag is an invitation to identity thieves. If you’re sending a harmless letter to your grandkids, go ahead and drop in your box for the mail carrier to pick up. But if you’re paying your bills or mailing out anything that contains personal information, bring those directly to the post office.
Step 3: Just because the mailman delivers it doesn’t mean its trustworthy.
If you receive mail that asks you to provide personal or financial information – this could be some type of sweepstakes, lottery announcement, donation request, etc. – DON’T SEND IT!
Mail scams are incredibly popular. In fact, the now cliché email scam about a foreign prince/dignitary who needs your help to get money out of his country (and will gladly give you a huge chunk of it…if you just provide your bank information) actually started as a mail scam over one hundred years ago.
If you want to donate to an organization, or even enter a sweepstakes, look them up online or in the phone book and reach out to them directly. Don’t use a phone number, website, or address they sent you in the mail, unless you’ve verified it through other means first.
Step 4: Don’t throw away junk mail.
It can be tempting to just toss all that junk mail right in the garbage, but doing so might be dangerous. Junk mail, particularly credit card applications, can be valuable to identity thieves. Some of them contain private information. Others, with just a little more information about you, could be used by an identity thief to order a new credit card—one you don’t even know exists.
Instead of throwing that stuff in the trash, pick up a cross-cut shredder and make sure it can’t be used against you.