Identity Theft 101: Thieves Strike Through Your Mail

If you think identity theft is only about stolen passwords and email transmissions, think again. Traditional snail mail is a big target of those looking to use your identity as their own, and it's more difficult to stop than you might imagine.

What is Mail Theft?

More than 12 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2012, according to credit.com. That's approximately 7 percent of all adults in the United States. While the majority of those thefts stemmed from hijacking email accounts and Internet passwords, a sizeable minority of those people fell victim to mail theft. If you have a mail box close to the street, you're vulnerable to mail theft.

For most people who work outside their homes, the mail sits for hours after the mail carrier delivers it. It's easy for a thief to walk by and grab your mail without anyone noticing. You won't even know that you're missing a few pieces, especially if he or she leaves a few pieces in the box.

Mail theft is especially prevalent during the holiday season. Unexpected packages sitting on the front porch and greeting cards with gift cards in them are attractive to thieves and easy to snatch without getting caught.

Mail Theft and Identity Theft

While having your mail stolen is a problem in itself, the bigger problem lies in the personal information thieves can glean from it. Your name and address are public record. Combine that information with your bank account number from your bank statement or your place of employment from your insurance company, and they have enough to start wrecking havoc with your credit. With enough personal information, thieves can open credit card accounts in your name, take out loans, file fraudulent insurance claims and even misdirect your incoming funds.

Ways to Protect Yourself

First of all, make sure that you check your mail every day as soon as you arrive home. Never leave mail in the box overnight. It's also a bad idea to leave your out-going mail hanging out of the box for the carrier to pick up. Better to drop in a postal mailbox yourself.

Stop your mail and have it held at the post office when you know you're going to be out of town overnight, so that your mail doesn't accumulate for anybody to see. It's also a good practice to shred your junk mail instead of just discarding it in the trash. Those unsolicited credit card offers and other financial solicitations often contain information thieves can use to steal your identity.

Credit monitoring companies such as Lifelock monitor your credit activity for you, so you'll be alerted immediately if someone has accessed your personal information or tried to use your Social Security number or bank information without your consent.

Having your identity stolen is a scary thing. However, by being vigilant about your mail and enlisting the aid of a monitoring company, you can reduce the odds of your becoming a mail theft victim.