Thursday, June 26, 2014

Guest post- Unlocked Mailboxes Can Expose You to Identity Theft!

Identity theft strikes fear into the heart of almost everyone. Whether this theft occurs online or through paper documents, stopping the theft and then preventing further violations can be time consuming and costly in more than one way. And, did you know that identity theft can originate in unlocked mailboxes? You assume the check you are mailing is safe.However, in 2012, 85% of victims of identity theft cited fraudulent use of existing account information, such as credit cards or bank account information. This type of information can be easily obtained from stolen mail. So, what are the best ways to prevent identity theft in the first place? Here are ways to protect yourself and your mail from theft.

Money in the Mail

You might think that there is no harm in slipping a five-dollar bill in a card, but it is a good rule of thumb to never send cash in the mail. It is easily taken and untraceable.

However, many send money through the mail as a means of payment for an assortment of bills. If you decide to opt out of electronic payments, be sure to use checks or money orders to pay those utility bills and mortgage payments. Using this method, you will be able to track when the check is cashed and both are more difficult for a thief to cash. If you happen to be on the receiving end, and you are expecting a check or other valuable in the mail and it is taking longer than expected to arrive, contact the issuing agency immediately. In order to stop or prevent identity theft, a stop may need to be put on a particular check or an account might need to be frozen. If there is a breach, the sooner this is done, the better.

Location of the Mail

As mentioned above, many people still pay their bills by mailing checks. While this is a traditional — and completely acceptable means of making a payment — it is imperative that any mailed check be sent through a mail slot or box at the local post office, via a locked mailbox or handed directly to a mail carrier. In contrast, placing a check in an open mailbox will leave you vulnerable to identity theft.

You also want to make sure that mail sent to you arrives at your current address. So, if you move, it is important to immediately notify your post office and anyone you do business with that you have a new mailing address. This will help avoid any sensitive materials falling into the hands of those living at your previous address.

Timing of the Mail

If you do use an unlocked mailbox, like the ones attached to homes or at the end of driveways, be sure to promptly remove any mail after each delivery. This is especially important if you are expecting checks, credit cards or other negotiable items. If you would not be home when the items are expected, ask a trusted friend or neighbor to pick up your mail and hold it until you can retrieve it from them.

If you are going on vacation or will be away from your home for an extended amount of time, have your local post office hold your mail. You will then be able to collect it from the post office when you return. This will not only keep your mail safe but will also prevent passers-by from noticing that you are away due to the accumulation of mail in your box.

Another option is to install a locked mailbox, allowing only those with a key to retrieve the contents. Multi-mailbox units, similar to those used at apartment complexes, as well as single locked mailboxes can be purchased at You can also consult with your local postmaster for the most up-to-date regulations on mailboxes, including the availability of locked centralized or curbside mailboxes.

But you do not have to fight mail theft alone. You can also partner with your neighbors to start 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 when you or others are away. And, if you do observe a mail thief, be sure to call the local police immediately, and then call the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at (877) 876-2455.

While identity theft can happen to anyone, there are steps you can take to prevent it and lessen your vulnerabilities. So, be sure to mail all sensitive materials through locked or official post office mailboxes and look into installing a locked mailbox at your home to protect items you are receiving.

About the Author: Dave Vincent is an expert on identity theft and knows that locked mailboxes are safer for you and your mail. 

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