Protecting yourself

6 things ID thieves want from your mailbox

Sally Herigstad
6 things ID thieves want from your mailbox

I can’t believe anyone these days would still have an unlocked mailbox. A quick drive down the street near my house, however, shows plenty of old-fashioned mailboxes that anyone could help themselves to, anytime.

I used to worry about thieves getting into my mailbox and finding cash from grandma, or my latest purchase from Amazon. (Won’t they be disappointed when they find a sheep collar or maybe some gluten-free crackers?)

Thieves must know their chances of finding cash or valuable packages in your mailbox are slim. That’s OK by them. They can go through mailboxes and find things they like even better – things that can allow them to help themselves to other people’s finances and good credit possibly for months and years to come.

Everything an ID thief takes from your mailbox, he (or she) can use directly or can profit from indirectly by impersonating or scamming you. Think about what an identity thief or scam artist can do with these six mailbox finds:

1. Bank statements
Now the fraudster knows where you bank, how much money you keep in the bank, and all or part of your account number. If you get an email or phone call that repeats this information, will you be fooled into responding?

2. Credit card bills
Some of my credit card bills still display the complete account number, along with my name and address. The credit card statements may not have the expiration date of my card, but what they have is a good start for calling the bank and pretending to be me. That’s not far-fetched, considering someone recently did just that on my Visa account.

3. Preapproved credit card offers
How hard would it be to take advantage of those? Open an account in your name, put their address on the credit card application, and it’s off to the races with charge cards issued in your name at an address that is not yours. How would you learn of this account if you don’t regularly check your credit report?

4. New credit cards
If your new credit card came the day your mailbox was robbed, let’s hope the fraudsters have a hard time activating your card, if your card needs activating at all. Either way, I don’t want thieves wandering around with my new card with a $0 balance!

5. Re-ordered paper checks
Paper checks are a security hazard any way you look at it. I know someone whose blank check reorders were stolen from her mailbox, and it took her two years to straighten out the mess. The thief had a fake ID made to go with the checks, and the fraudster never was caught.

6. Junk mail
Even your junk mail reveals a surprising amount of personal information about you, your family and your hobbies. The more identity thieves know about you, the easier it is to call or email you with a convincing scam, or to impersonate you to someone else.

I’ve had a locking mailbox since the neighborhood I used to live in had a rash of mailbox thefts. Our homeowner’s association, ever ready to help, decided to solve the problem by telling us what kind of mailbox we had to use and sending us the bill.

The problem was, the mailboxes were still small and complicated to use. Within a year, hardly anyone was using the locks on the new, expensive mailboxes.

We moved to the country – ah, freedom! With no HOA to tell us what to do, we went to Home Depot to pick out our own mailbox. Prices varied from $18 to almost $1,000 for a single-customer box. The cheapest ones looked like I could pry them open with a penknife.

We needed a sturdy, free-standing box that could hold small packages and lots of mail. It needed a drop door at the top, so the mail carrier would never be locked out.

We chose a $99 mailbox on a post. I considered getting something wilder, like a mailbox painted to look like a duck, just to celebrate not having an HOA anymore. Maybe next time.

If I were doing it over, I would go for a slightly larger size mailbox so more packages could fit inside. When my carrier can’t fit a box in my mailbox, she leaves the box, along with today’s mail, on my front porch at the mercy of my puppy.

My locking mailbox doesn’t help much when I find chewed-up Visa bills strewn across my flower beds.

Next time you get your mail, imagine what a thief could do with that armload of paper – whether it’s valuable to you or not.

And then go out and buy a locking mailbox, or use a P.O. box. It’s that simple.

See related: 10 warning signs of identity theft, How identity theft affects your credit score, Fraudsters creating synthetic identities from your information, 13 ways to make sure your identity is stolen

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