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Mail theft is a crime that takes place when someone steals another person’s mail and intends to commit crimes based on the personal information enclosed. It can result from robbing collection boxes, mail carriers, private mailboxes, postal workers, letter carriers, or mail trucks. Pieces of mail include anything sent through the mailing system such as letters, abstracts, postcards, gift cards, boxes, packages, or bags. Mail thieves mine letters for checks, cash, or any correspondence that contains sensitive or confidential data that could be further used to engage in identity theft.
Law enforcement and United States postal inspection service data show that mail theft reports soared from 25,000 to roughly 177,000 between 2017 and 2020; in other words an alarming 600% increase in just 3 years.
Even if people usually consider it a minor crime, the law sees it as exactly the opposite: the United States Postal Service (USPS) is a federal agency, therefore United States Code (USC) 18 Section 1708 qualifies mail theft as a federal offense and a felony. A conviction could land perpetrators in federal prison for up to five years. Offenders might also have to pay hefty fines of up to $250,000 and lose their right to hold public office or vote.
Utility or medical bills could reveal sensitive personal details like full name, address, phone number, or account number. Identity thieves can use this information to carry out a variety of crimes, gain access to other services, open new accounts or take over existing ones.
Some criminals make a career out of snatching mortgage statements or letters with bank account info from people’s trash. Any envelope sent by a financial institution, mortgage broker, or accountant could contribute with more data when they build your personal profile.
Stimulus or cash checks have recently become an alluring target for criminals. After snatching them, they alter the details and forge the payee’s signature to cash bigger amounts, then they amass the private information to commit identity theft, bank fraud, or loan fraud.
By unlawfully digging through someone’s trash, criminals can get their hands on credit card pre-approved offers or credit card replacements mailed by banks or credit card companies. They could profit by running up the charges, buying goods/services, or apply for loans.
Mail about income tax returns or IRS balances contains personally identifiable information. Through mail robbery or post-box vandalism, criminals use this data to commit tax refund/benefits fraud, for instance, by filing file a tax return that claims a fraudulent refund.
Organized crime rings use stolen identities based on a full name, address, Social Security Number (SSN), telephone number, or email address for employment-related cons. One method is to mail victims a form W-2 or 1099 which is not sent by their previous employers.
Reduce the amount of sensitive information you receive in the mailbox by opting for paper-free billing and electronic statements; it’s safer and more eco-friendly, too. And instead of sending cash or checks by post, switch to online transactions and online banking.
Don’t throw away letters or bills from credit card companies, businesses, banks, utilities without reading them, just in case there’s an illegitimate account you don’t recognize. If you want to get rid of documents with personal information, shred before throwing them away.
To avoid having your personal data being printed on uncalled-for documents, join National Do Not Mail lists to request your removal from marketing or direct mail lists and eliminate any possibility of needlessly receiving pre-approved credit card offers.
Don’t leave letters or packages at your door or in the mailbox for too long. If you have valuable overdue bills, getting less mail, or you don’t receive an important card or bank statement, contact the post office or the sender to inquire about it.
To access your mail, criminals could file a fake request to change the address. In this case, the US Postal Service sends a confirmation letter to both your old and new addresses. If you receive it without having asked for it, alert the postal inspectors ASAP.
When you don’t want to freeze credit reports, you’re at high risk/have already been a victim of identity theft/data breaches, identity monitoring actively keeps your sensitive personal information under observation, helping you protecting it from fraudsters.
In 2017, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service reported only 4679 convictions from 5538 arrests connected to postal crimes, including 464 convictions of mail fraud. However, the growth of e-commerce spending and the increased number of Americans who switched to working from home and spending more time indoors in the past two years has led to a sharp rise in package theft - from nearly 36% in 2019 to 43% in 2020. According to a C+R survey, from the 43% who have been a victim of “porch pirates,” 64% said they had a package stolen more than once.
Since the United States Postal Service does not require proof of identification when a request for a Change of Address (COA) is made, crooks could change your mailing address and reroute your correspondence without you noticing it. In this case, all your sensitive documents will reach them instead of you, potentially giving them time to gather enough personal information to steal your identity. However, the postal service mails a notice to confirm the change of address and if you ignore it or miss it, your mail will continue to be diverted to the con artists who changed it. Although annually only an estimated 37,000 COA requests are reported to the USPS as being suspicious, it’s best to keep a watchful eye as this could easily escalate into identity theft.
If identity thieves manage to redirect your mail to their address, this means they could intercept your bills, business letters, and other documents that have your contact details, healthcare statements, your SSN, passport information, or data about your financial records. The crooks could gather the necessary sensitive data needed to impersonate you and commit crimes like identity theft and address fraud. They could receive your replacement credit cards, change your financial information, take out loans, order checks and sign up for new credit cards under your name.
Here are some red flags and warning signs that could suggest that someone is diverting or stealing your mail:
If you suspect that your correspondence was stolen:
According to the USC 18 section 3282, the statute of limitations for U.S. mail fraud is five years and when the mail fraud scheme affects a financial institution, the statute carried is ten years, after which the wrongdoer cannot be tried.
In 2018, 15% of all consumer complaints filed to the FTC were about identity theft and 48% were linked to fraud. From this share, a consistent amount of personally identifiable data can be easily extracted from physical mail. Letters, bills, and anything received by post or delivered by mail delivery services could contain the recipient’s full name, address, date of birth, bank account numbers, credit records, PINs, and more pieces of information. All these details can be put together and used by thieves to impersonate somebody else and cash checks, take out loans, or receive other financial benefits on behalf of the victim.
Here are a few recommendations for homeowners who wish to secure package delivery and prevent Amazon, USPS, UPS, FedEx, or eBay package theft:
To stay on the safe side, here are some tips for preventing or minimizing damages caused by address fraud:
Identity monitoring services like IDStrong use advanced lookup technology that monitors the United States Postal Service user databases. When our digital tracking tools identify an address change request made for an address that is being monitored, we send an alert to the respective user. And if information such as driver’s license, SSN, or medical record number has already been stolen from your mail, we can automatically monitoring it to let you know if it ends up on the dark web or is traded online. Therefore, monitoring helps to prevent and reduce the risk of being conned by identity thieves, as well as minimize the financial losses that could arise.