Thieves target mail to steal your personal information

Unlocked mailboxes like this are prime targets for mail thieves who want to steal your identity. And red flags indicating outgoing mail are like advertisements to those looking to use your personal information for criminal purposes. LOIS KINDLE PHOTOS

By LOIS KINDLE

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office is advising residents to be proactive when it comes to protecting their identities. And one of those ways is being aware of how they handle their U.S. mail.

“Criminals are always looking for personal and financial information, and many have found ways to get it by stealing mail,” said Jeff Merry, the community resource deputy with the HCSO District IV Command. “They are especially looking for things like bank and credit card statements or payments, loan applications and correspondence from insurance companies and healthcare organizations.”

They take it directly out of your mailbox, he said, and the mail can be either incoming or outgoing.

“Thieves prefer outgoing mail because they can get so much more information,” Merry said.

If you don’t have a locking mailbox, you’re especially vulnerable.

Thieves use your mail to capture sensitive personal information that can be used to set up false accounts, take over your existing accounts, file fake tax returns, open fraudulent medical accounts, even buy a car out of state. They can chemically wash your checks, and then change the amount and make them out to whomever they wish.

The following are steps you can take to help reduce or eliminate mail theft.

• Get a Post Office box.

• Purchase a locked mailbox for your home, if your HOA or COA allows one. Even the Sun City Center HCSO substation has a locked box, Merry said.

• Deposit outgoing mail in slots inside the Post Office or hand it personally to your letter carrier. Believe it or not, thieves have actually fished mail out of outdoor Postal Service boxes. And the red flag on your mailbox is like an advertisement to people trying to steal your identity.

• Stop mail delivery when you go on vacation or are away from home for an extended period for any reason. Or ask a trusted friend or neighbor to pick up your mail.

• Know when your mail usually arrives and retrieve it as soon as possible.

• Have your wages and payments set up for direct deposit; get statements and pay your bills online.

• Shred unsolicited or unwanted mail containing any personal information.

• Opt out of receiving unsolicited credit applications. To do so, visit www.optoutprescreen.com.

• And if you believe you’ve had your mail stolen or you don’t receive a check or statement you’re expecting through the mail, call the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in SCC at 813-242-5515, and then file a complaint with the U.S. Postal Service by calling 877-876-2455 and pressing 3 when prompted.

If you’d like to hear more about mail theft and what criminals do with information they get from your mail, Merry is hosting four presentations in Sun City Center that are free and open to the public. They are scheduled as follows:

• 11 a.m., July 18, Freedom Plaza Auditorium, 1010 American Eagle Blvd.

• 3 p.m., July 19, American Momentum Bank, 131 S. Pebble Beach Blvd.

Merry can be reached by calling 813-242-5515 or emailing jmerry@hcso.tampa.fl.us.

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