Q: I have noticed that some of my mail is missing, and I suspect someone is actually stealing it. Some of the people in my neighborhood have been noticing it, as well. Does the BBB have any tips on what to do to keep my mail from thieves?
A: Unfortunately, like garbage cans, unsecured mailboxes can be goldmines for identity thieves, and the incidences of using stolen mail for identity theft have become more popular. A Javelin Strategy and Research survey on identity theft estimates that in 2012, 12.6 million consumers became victims of identity theft.
Of the mail most typically stolen, bank statements and bills that contain personal identifiers could prompt sophisticated impersonators to attempt to hijack accounts. Pre-approved credit card offers are invitations for crooks to open new lines of credit under other people's names. And even basic
junk mailings contain names and addresses that could attract dumpster-divers who sell contact information as leads to outside marketers.
BBB offers the following 12 tips to protect your mail from thieves:
1) Always deposit your mail in a mail slot at your local post office, or hand it to your letter carrier.
2) Never send cash or coins in the mail. Use checks or money orders.
3) Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after delivery, especially if you are expecting checks, credit cards, or other negotiable items. If you won't be home when the items are expected, ask a trusted friend or neighbor to pick up your mail.
4) Have your local post office hold your mail while you're on vacation, or absent from your home for a long period of time.
5) If you don't receive a check or other valuable mail you're expecting, contact the issuing agency immediately.
6) If you change your address, immediately notify your post office and anyone with whom you do business via the mail. Also keep in mind, if you are changing/updating your address online, the U.S. Postal Service site is: www.usps.com. If done online at the USPS site, expect to pay $1 to change your address. But be aware there have been cases of other sites claiming to change your address or make it seem very similar to the USPS site, but they charge a more substantial fee to change it and may not even do the job of getting it changed.
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 thief at work, call the local police immediately, and then call the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455.
8) Invest in a sturdy, locking mailbox, or in a mail box at your local post office branch. The P.O. Box may be especially helpful in situations where you may receive a good amount of sensitive documents such as bank statements and checks.
9) Be sure to shred unneeded mail. Thieves love to check your garbage for your information. Some consumers even make a bonfire with their unneeded mail, but be sure to check your local laws concerning outdoor fires in your neighborhood. Your local BBB has partnered with Cintas Document Management and Dupont Community Credit Union to hold two shred day events this fall. On Friday, Oct. 18, we will be located at the Dupont Community Credit Union-Ooltewah Branch (9227 Lee Highway) from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, and on Saturday, Oct. 19 we will be located at the corner intersection of Highway 153 and Lee Hwy from 9 a.m. to 12 noon.
10) Go paperless. Sign up for online statements, and reduce your clutter. Just be sure to have a reputable anti-virus on your computer, and be sure to go to the right websites. Scammers have been known to spoofs sites to make them look legitimate.
11) Avoid signing up for unnecessary programs or services.
12) Opt-out from bulk mailing lists.
The United States Postal Inspectors have some extra information on mail fraud: https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/investigations/MailFraud/fraudschemes/mailtheft/MailTheft.aspx.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.