Police in Chesterfield, Missouri are warning residents that leaving outgoing mail in their mailboxes and putting their flag up is an invitation for identity thieves. Their efforts come after a string of burglaries this July targeting outgoing mail. Bills, checks and personal information were confiscated from the mailboxes in front of victims’ homes.
Roughly 80 cities and towns across Texas — including Cameron and other Milam County cities — are currently facing a similar problem, as many residents were victims of a postal theft scheme that involved more than 50,000 pieces of mail and over $500,000 in other U.S. government property. The two defendants involved in this scheme, however, allegedly broke into U.S. Post Offices and rummaged through blue mail receptacle boxes located outside of post offices.
According to court records, the defendants continued to snatch Texans’ mail from December 2013 through March 2014, stealing credit cards, personal checks, business checks, W-2 forms, tax returns and other items belonging to more than 2,000 victims.
The thieves then proceeded to activate numerous credit cards using victims’ stolen personal information, including names, Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers. The total damage amounted to more than $80,000.
The theft of incoming and outgoing mail isn't new, but is on the rise. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that 400,000 Americans had their mail stolen in 2013 and as a result, became victims of identity theft. This is up from the FTC’s estimation of about 300,000 Americans becoming victims of mail theft in 2012.
Police in Missouri and Texas — and across the nation — are advising residents to think wisely when it comes to sending mail. Here are some tips to consider:
Pay Bills Online
While identity theft dangers also lurk online, consider making payments on the Internet while also utilizing online identity theft protection and anti-virus software, which are necessary for safe transactions. Also be sure you’re connected to a password-protected Wi-Fi network and use sophisticated passwords (and routinely update them) for all of your personal accounts, including email, banking, credit card, medical and utility accounts.
Send Mail from a Post Office
When sending out mail that contains personal information, consider going to the post office and mailing it out in person. As we’ve seen with the recent cases in Texas, the blue receptacle boxes are also being targeted, so it could be a good idea to place mail in a bin inside the post office instead.
Be Prompt About Sending and Picking Up Mail at Home
If you do decide to send out mail from your home mailbox, try to put your mail in shortly before you anticipate it will get picked up. The same goes for taking your mail: Do so soon after the mail delivery arrives.
Stay Proactive About Identity Theft
Routinely check your credit report and banking statements and consider enlisting in identity theft protection. Weeks or years can go by without realizing you were a victim of mail theft and as a result, identity theft. The situation can worsen very quickly, so it’s important to catch any suspicious activity as soon as possible.