Tax time is starting. And that means mail theft will be escalating. And identity theft increases along with it. So watch out.
Mail theft increases at tax time because identity thieves find it to be the easiest time of the year to confiscate your valuable and private information. They are looking for your W-2s, your tax refund check, and the regular assortment of checks, credit cards and personal papers.
While cybersecurity issues make the news, good old terrestrial mail theft can be a way for criminals to make some easy and free money by stealing other people’s information to use as their own. The average mail theft is profitable for these criminals throughout the year because of the credit card applications and personal loan solicitations that come in the mail on a daily basis.
But tax time is probably their favorite yearly event because of the enhanced information that can be obtained when stealing youW-2. From that one document they can get your employer name and address, social security numbers,birth dates, and salary figures. At that point, they are off to races.
Types of personal information they can steal
Mail thieves can obtain tons of personal information that they use to benefit themselves, while possibly costing you an enormous amount of pain and suffering.
Besides the obvious mailing addresses, these thieves can steal much more information than just your address. They can retrieve bank information such as the account number, personal identification numbers and deposit amounts.
Credit card applications that come in the mail sometimes come with an activated card in the envelope. But if it has not been activated, the crooks simply call the 800 number in order to activate and use the new credit card.
During January, when most employers send W-2’s out, the criminals can steal even more information than usual. This is because the tax document includes social security numbers and birth dates, whereas many of the other advertisements do not have these listed.
Things they can do with stolen information
As previously stated, your W-2 contains more personal identifying information than the average mail, so there are many more options for the mail thief.
They can open accounts in your name like credit cards, bank accounts and personal loans leaving you with a potentially shattered credit history and report. These mail fraudsters can also chemically alter any checks that are sent to you in the mail to change amounts and other details of the check.
Internet purchases can be made, as well as creating new online accounts in your name.
By using the stolen information from your W-2, they can even file for a refund anticipation loan that is offered based on your proposed tax refund.
Suggested ways to protect yourself and your mail
The United States Postal Service recommends that you never mail cash, which we all pretty much understand.
They also suggest that all outgoing letters or cards that contain checks or gift cards be mailed from the post office by using the mail slot or handing the outgoing mail to your mail carrier, instead of leaving it in the mailbox to be picked up.
Watch for the mail carrier to deliver your mail and retrieve it as soon as possible, especially if you are expecting important documents like your W-2.
Locked mailboxes would be the most assured way to stop mail theft and they are available from the USPS and many other places.
Report anything suspicious to a US Postal Inspector if you believe mail theft has transpired. Immediately file PS Form 2016, a formal complaint that describes where and when the mail theft occurred. This will help the Postal Inspector to possibly narrow the location of the problem to a specific area and possibly apprehend the thief.
What to do if you are a victim of identity theft
If you suspect that any of your personal information may have been stolen, during tax season or otherwise, you may want to read our article on Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft. It includes a number of tips on how to protect yourself, as well as some recommended credit monitoring services.