4 Ways to Protect Against Old-School Identity Theft

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Identity theft doesn’t just happen through your computer. Otherwise savvy Americans are getting ripped off the old-fashioned way: through the U.S. mail.

When you hear that there are nearly 12 million victims of identity theft a year, what’s the first thought that leaps to mind? Someone scamming you through your computer, right?

Well, it turns out you can still be ripped off the old-fashioned way – through the mail. And the beginning of the year is the worst time for it. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) reports that…

“In January, 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.”

That’s too enticing a lure for scammers to resist. And the way they do it is decidedly low-tech: “Walkers follow mail carriers and look through your mail for any bonanza they can find.” So what can you do?

  1. Do it daily: We check our email every other minute, but we can’t be bothered with checking our physical mailbox every day. Some ambitious thieves “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.”
  2. Lock it up: If your mailbox is vulnerable, consider buying one that locks. Perhaps in a testimony to how prevalent mail theft is, you can find dozens of them just by Googling “locking mailbox.” Even Amazon sells one.
  3. Box it in: It might be worth paying a few bucks for a P.O. box for sensitive mail. Adds the ITRC, “The Post Office does background checks on employees and uses surveillance equipment.”
  4. Hold it up: You know how the post office can hold your mail for vacations? The ITRC has a clever idea: “During this critical month, have your mail held at the post office, with photo identification required for pick up.”

If you suspect mail theft, you can file a complaint with the Postal Inspector’s Office – which, ironically, you can do online.

Stacy Johnson

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