One of the most common ways identity thieves gain access to your identity is by going through your mail. They search for credit card offers, checks,and anything with your personal information including bank and other account information. But it’s not just incoming mail that identity thieves steal, they are even more interested in outgoing mail. Why? Outgoing mail usually is far more lucrative. They are often filled with various applications with personal information filled out and checks with your handwriting that can be altered for fraudulent use.
Effectively securing your mail can significantly reduce your exposure to identity fraud. Protecting your mail involves three simple practices:
- Physically securing your incomming and outgoing mail
- Limiting and destroying junk mail
- Monitoring mail to ensure sensitive mail arrives
1. Physically Securing Your Mail
The first step in protecting your mail is to prevent any unauthorized access to them. This can be done in a variety of ways:
Using a post office box or other secure mailbox: Most mailboxes are unsecured and even locked ones can be broken into. The most secure mailboxes are slots in your door or a P.O. box. By using a post office box, you in a way eliminate the “middle man” in your mail’s journey from one postal center to another and it always remains safe in federal custody until you pick it up.
Suspend mail delivery during vacations:If you’re planning a trip, let the post office know to hold your mail so it doesn’t pile out of your box. Not only is this dangerous for identity theft but it’s also a clear signal to thieves nobody’s home.
Sensitive mail should be mailed at the post office: Whenever possible, drop mail containing bills,l checks, or applications at the post office or a well trafficked mailbox. A raised red flag on your mail box notifies identity thieves, not just your mailman.
Send check orders directly to your bank:It’s extremely dangerous to have a box of blank checks sitting in a mailbox unattended. Have them arranged to be delivered to your local branch for pick up. Your bank should be able to arrange this without any problem.
2. Limit and Destroy Junk Mail
Junk mail is more than a nuisance. Identity thieves can use it to apply for lines of credit and purchase goods in your name. To reduce the limit of junk mail you receive:
- Out out of preapproved offers by calling 1-888-567-8688
- Sign up for the Direct Marketing Association’s “Do-Not-Mail” list. To register, simply send your name, address, and signature to:
Mail Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association
PO Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512
If you continue to receive any junk mail containing credit card offers or other information identity theives could steal, destroy it with a cross-cut shredder.
Monitor Your Mail Schedule
Sensitive pieces of mail usually arrive the same time every month so if something does not arrive on schedule, make certain the mail hasn’t been stolen. If a monthly bill or statement does not arrive on time, follow up immediately with the appropriate institution.
Another highly piece of sensitive information are expired credit cards. Creditors will usually send out new cards well in advance of their expiration dates. Be aware of your card expiration dates and if a new card has not arrived within a month of expiration, this may be sign your new card has been compromised.
Securing your mail is the first step towards any comprehensive solution to protecting your identity but it’s also important to know that despite these precautions, identity thieves can still access your information. Order a free copy of your credit report form the 3 major credit bureaus and review whats on the credit file. Make certain the names, addresses, and information on them is complete.
Under the Fair Credit Act, you are allowed one free report a year from each of the three major bureaus but checking your credit file once a year is like checking the lock on your house once a year. We highly recommend a credit monitoring service with an insurance policy for complete protection. There are many types of protection services and with wildly varying ideas about protection. We review the top companies and for more information, You can read our Identity Guard review, Lifelock review, TrustedId Review or compare identity theft protection services here.