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The Phony Express: Identity Thieves Love When You Get Mail

Your identity is one of the few things in your life that is irreplaceable. Unfortunately, it has also become a hot commodity on the black market. Although many scam artists use a number of high-tech methods to commit identity theft, one of the easiest ways is by simply taking your mail. You may not have given it much thought, but your mail is filled with the type of personal, credit and banking information that identity thieves absolutely love.

According to the United States Postal Service, more than 9 million Americans were victimized by identity theft last year. Although only 4 percent of these crimes were directly linked to stolen mail, it is believed that the number of these cases could actually be higher, since people often are not exactly sure how a criminal got a hold of their personal information.

Believe it or not, some identity thieves are actually bold enough to follow mail carriers around, especially at tax time when your box may be filled with all sorts of personal financial information. While most of these criminals will just take your mail, others are sneakier and have been known to open mail, copy down the information and re-seal the envelope. With this method, it may take you months, maybe even years until you discover that your information has been compromised.

Some identity thieves dumpster dive to find mail that may contain important financial information. They are typically looking for credit card applications that companies may have sent to you.

How is This Stolen Mail Used Against You?

Scams like mail fraud and theft can cause a lot of grief. Once a criminal has a hold of your mail, he can use your personal information to take control of your accounts. He may also be able to learn enough information about you (think social security number, other bank accounts and credit card accounts) to set up his own accounts in your name. Other thieves may sell your credit card numbers to fraud rings.

What You Can Do To Protect Yourself

To protect yourself from these identity thieves, the United States Postal Service recommends you never leave your mail in your box overnight. If you are going to be away for a day or more, ask a trusted neighbor, family or friend to pick up your mail for you or better yet, have it stopped at the local post office.

You should also avoid leaving your outgoing bill payments in your mailbox with the flag up. Instead, take your mail to the nearest U.S. Postal Service collection box.

Finally, shred all financial mail or credit card applications instead of discarding them in your trash.

If you suspect that someone has stolen your mail, you should report your suspicions to the Postal Inspection Service Office, and then check your credit report for any unusual activity. Contact your credit card companies and financial institutions to make sure that no one has changed the address on your accounts.

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