Though you might not realize it, your paper mail puts you at great risk of identity theft. Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to protect yourself. Here is a list of all the pieces of mail, junk or not, that can put you at risk:
Financial Documents: Anything that you get in the mail from a financial institution can technically be used by someone wanting to steal your identity. You should keep bank and credit card statements for your records, but usually only for three years. Anything older than that should be shredded. You should also shred checks and printed online orders that have any billing or bank account information.
Personal Documents: You should shred any document with personal information on it such as your birthday or your Social Security Number. Also, shred documents with phone numbers, full name, or a driver’s license number. Employment-related mail and mail from the IRS should also be shredded.
Account Documents: Additionally, you should be shredding any document that has account information. These include usernames, account numbers, and passwords. Real estate documents, credit card statements, utility bills, and information about rentals or vacation properties also fall into this category.
Junk Documents: You probably don’t think about it, but junk mail is especially dangerous. Most people don’t realize that most junk mail has a barcode that might contain identifying information. These junk documents include mail from credit card companies, organizations such as AARP, or from insurance companies. Even mail order catalog inserts and order forms often have your name and address and need to be shredded.
School or Child-Related Documents: Make sure that you are shredding any mail related to your children, their medical information, or school information. This includes things such as school applications, report cards, or even school field trip permission forms.
Business Related Documents: You may be a small business or are participating in the “gig” economy and might have sensitive documents on clients or different jobs or tasks. If the docs were to fall in the wrong hands because you tossed them in the recycling bin, they could be considered a data breach.
Change the Way You Think About Junk Mail
If you are like most people, you have to change the way you think about junk mail. Why? Because junk mail can immediately set you up to become a victim of identity theft. When we think about identity theft, we usually think about large corporations and data breaches, such as Anthem and Target. Most of the time, however, identity theft is pretty low-tech.
How Does Identity Theft Via Mail Happen?
There are three main ways that someone can use mail to commit identity theft:
The first way that people can use mail to commit identity theft is that they can take your credit card invoice. Once they get that bill, especially if the full number is printed on the invoice, they can use the number to buy goods and services. They can also use that bill to pose as the credit card company and call you to extract all the numbers from you in a slick social engineering scheme. They can also use the bill to change the address on the account, and you might not realize it for months.
Another way an identity thief can get the job done is by stealing your outgoing mail. If you, for instance, are sending a check to your credit card company, that’s a gold mine to the bad guys. They can not only cash the check themselves, they will also have your bank account number, maybe your credit card number, name, address, and other information.
The third way is to steal right from the post office boxes. Those blue mailboxes that are on the corners around your city are not impenetrable. Though the mail that makes it down into the box is usually safe, thieves have been known to put glue on the chute, which will trap mail. This makes it is easy to pick out of the box. Of course, some thieves will simply break into the box itself.
Protecting Yourself and Your Mail From Identity Thieves
The absolute best way to protect yourself from identity theft is to use a professional ID theft protection service, but there are also some simple steps you can take. These include:
- Getting a locked mailbox for your home
- Paying bills online
- Mailing things directly from the local post office
- Monitoring your financial statements each day
There are some other things you can do that are a bit more involved:
Stop Receiving Pre-Approved Offers
One of the first things you should do after reading this is to go to the website, OptOutPrescreen.com and sign up. This will make sure that you are not sent any pre-screened or pre-approved financial offers. The site is created by the major credit card bureaus and allows you to opt-out from receiving these offers for either five years, or permenatly . At any time, you can opt back in.
It’s probably best to opt-out for five years. Why? First, you can do it right online in a couple of minutes. A permanent opt-out will require that you print and mail a form. Second, if you choose the five-year option, you will have the option of getting offers again in the future without having to go through the steps of opting back in. The process of doing this is very easy:
- Browse over to OptOutPrescreen.com.
- Select the 5-year option if you want to do this entirely online.
- Enter the information asked by the site. You don’t necessarily have to give your Social Security Number nor your date of birth. However, it is possible the opt-out won’t work without this information. Don’t worry about giving your personal information to this site. They have extraordinary security measures in place to protect you.
- Click on the “Confirm” button to send the information, and the opt-out request will be initiated.
It usually takes about five business days for a request to go through. You might still continue to get offers over the next couple of weeks, but those are coming from companies that had previously accessed your information. After that, you should not receive any more for that 5-year time frame. If you want to take the old-fashioned route, you can also opt out by dialing 1-888-5-OPTOUT.
Stop Receiving Marketing Offers in the Mail
When you take the steps to opt out of offers on OptOutPrescreen.com, you will get off the list for financial pre-approved offers. However, it will not get you off the list of other marketing communications that are often sent through the mail. There is no way to stop all junk mail, but you can definitely decrease the amount by contacting the Direct Marketing Association, or the DMA.
The DMA works directly with the major marketers out there, and they catalog companies to show the best ways to market to consumers. They manage a service called Mail Preferences Service, or MPS, which allows companies to find the customers that they will send mail to. So, the DMA MPS will allow consumers to find the types of communication they want to get and they type they don’t. How do you set it up? Follow these steps:
Visit the website for the DMA MPS.
Fill out the form, including all possible versions of your name. This includes the version of your first name that is on your birth certificate as well as any nicknames or common names that you might go by. For instance, if your name is Matthew Jones, you probably also want to include Matt Jones.
Submit credit card information. This is used to verify your identity and nothing else. You will not be charged if you do the opt-out online. However, if you complete the process by mail, which is also an option, there is a small processing fee.
When your credit card information has been submitted, and your identity has been fully verified, you will have three options. Choose Option A to remove your name from certain organizations’ lists or choose Option C to remove your name from the DMA member prospect list.
If you choose Option C, you might not receive mail like coupons or catalogs that you might want. If this concerns you, you might want to put in the effort and time to complete Option A. This option requires you to identify each and every marketer that you will want to stop receiving marketing from. This could be very time consuming, and it will not prevent you from getting any new mail from other marketers in the future.
Most people should choose Option C if they have concerns about the amount of mail that they get. Remember, if you opt out of these offers, you can always opt back in at any time. So, if you try it, and then feel like you are missing out on offers that you want, you can always adjust your preferences.
Once you have made the choice to opt out, and you have submitted your request, you will immediately be off the list for marketers that use the DMA MPS. In most cases, it will take from 30 to 90 days for people to stop getting mail from members of the DMA. This is simply because, many times, mail campaigns are planned weeks in advance.
Keep in mind that any DMA MPS opt-out won’t eliminate 100 percent of your junk mail, but you will definitely see a big drop in the amount of mail that you receive.
As you can see, it is quite simple to decrease the amount of unsolicited junk make that you get, which will, in turn, decrease the chances that you will become a victim of identity theft via mail. However, this is only one step of several that you should take to protect yourself. Again, the best way to protect yourself is through a professional identity theft protection company.