In today’s post, Intersections’ Consumer Security Adviser Neal O’Farrell reminds us that “low-tech” methods used by identity thieves and criminals are sometimes the most effective.
As the busiest season for identity thieves approaches, one of the greatest vulnerabilities for all consumers will be their incoming mail. Mail is a magnet for identity thieves because it usually contains all the ingredients to commit anything from simple fraud to full-out identity theft. And all that priceless information is usually left right at the side of the road for any thief to simply pluck from your mail box.
When an identity thief looks down a street, he or she sees no one watching or protecting the stacks of personal information lining both sides of the streets. Hardly surprising that mail theft is one of the most lucrative forms of identity theft and the most popular for low level or novice identity thieves.
And these thieves know that the Holidays always bring with them a treasure-trove of personal information, and especially financial statements. Mail theft has become so lucrative it's almost an organized crime with professional mail gangs actively roaming neighborhoods looking for unattended mail that they can grab, run, and sell to other thieves. And we're already beginning to see a seasonal spike in this kind of crime. Just recently, police in the Northern California city of Chico discovered that mail thieves had ransacked more than twenty seven mail boxes in one spree. And stories like that are now cropping up all around the country.
But it wasn't on some dark street in an isolated neighborhood under the cover of night. The brazen attack was actually at a Post Office, in plain sight where thieves crashed through a plate glass window, emptied all the mail boxes and sorted out the valuable from the valueless right there on the post office floor.
And some thieves will stop at nothing to get their hands on your mail. One thief was recently charged with hiring two women to attack a postal employee so they could steal the master key he used to open mail boxes. In a vicious assault the thieves actually tazed the postal worker.
So what can you do to protect yourself?
• Collect your mail every day as soon as it arrives.
• Never leave mail out in your mail box to be collected. That's quite literally a red flag for thieves.
• Consider switching to online banking and bill paying. Most experts believes that online banking is much safer than traditional banking, and by going paperless with your bills and statements you can dramatically reduce the amount of information thieves can steal from you.
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