Scam of the day – February 16, 2017 – New twist on mail theft

Identity theft is a high tech, low tech and no tech crime and while we often tend to focus our attention on high tech identity theft tactics such as spear phishing, no tech tactics such as fishing for mail with a plastic bottle covered in glue that is lowered into blue public mailboxes to capture mail being sent with checks is making a comeback.  In the Bronx, New York just in the last year police and postal inspectors have made about 150 arrests according to Donna Harris of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

I have warned you for years about leaving mail with checks or credit card information in your personal mailbox outside of your home with the flag raised to alert your postal carrier that there is mail in your box to be retrieved is a bad idea because it also alerts identity thieves who can easily steal the mail.  Once they have the checks, they can “wash” the name or even the amount of the check and make the check payable to the thief. They also can use the account number of your check to create counterfeit checks to access your checking account.

TIPS

This is an easy crime to avoid.  The best course of action is to pay your bills electronically and avoid the problem altogether.  However, if you cannot do so or prefer to send a paper check by mail, you should use a gel pen that is not easily “washed” to write your checks and you should mail envelopes with checks in them directly from inside the post office.

Scam of the day – June 6, 2016 – Texas man sentenced for identity theft by stealing mail

Everyone is aware of the dangers of identity theft found on our computers, smartphones and other electronic devices, however, identity theft is a crime that is high tech, low tech and no tech as was shown recently by the conviction of David Burney in federal court in Texas on charges of stealing mail from mailboxes of unwary victims and using the stolen mail for purposes of identity theft. Burney would cruise residential streets looking for the mailboxes of people who had put their outgoing mail into their mailboxes and raised the red flag on the side of the mailboxes to alert the postal carrier to pick up the mail from the mailboxes.  In that mail Burney found letters containing checks by which his victims were paying their bills.  Unfortunately, it is a simple matter for someone who steals a check to have new checks printed using the account information and bank routing information contained on the check, which is what Burney did.  He then used the checks to buy electronics and gift cards which he used to turn into cash.

TIPS

The lesson to be learned here is that you are probably safer paying your bills online than by mail with a check.  Even if you put your mail into the large  U.S. Post Office mailboxes found on many street corners, you run the risk of those mailboxes being broken into and your checks stolen.  Certainly, putting your outgoing mail containing checks in your own mailbox is a risky way to pay your bills and puts you in serious danger of identity theft.  If you wish to mail your letters and bills containing checks, you should mail them directly from the Post Office.

Scam of the day – April 4, 2016 – Danger of identity theft in mailboxes

Identity theft can be high tech, low tech or no tech.  Stealing mail from mailboxes for purposes of identity theft has been done by identity thieves for years.  Numerous times over the last few years I have warned you about the danger of having your mail, such as credit card bills or bank statements stolen from your personal mailbox.  In addition, many people put themselves in great danger of identity theft by putting their outgoing mail in their mailbox and put up the red flag to alert the postman that there is mail to be picked up.  Unfortunately, that is also an alert to identity thieves cruising the neighborhood of mail to be easily stolen.  Recently the Henderson County, North Carolina Sheriff’s office issued a warning about a recent increase in identity theft related mailbox thefts, however, this problem is not limited to North Carolina, but indeed is national in scope.

TIPS

In order to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft through your mailbox, you should make sure that it is securely locked so that it is not easily accessed by your friendly neighborhood identity thief and when it comes to outgoing mail, don’t put it in your mailbox for your postal carrier to pick up regardless of how convenient it may be to do so.  In fact, identity thieves have been known to steal mail from the U.S. Postal Service mailboxes found on the corners of major streets so, in order to be safe, you should mail your outgoing mail at the post office.   It may seem like this is being a bit excessive when it comes to protecting your mail, but remember, even paranoids have enemies.

Scam of the day – January 21, 2015 – Mailbox identity theft

Identity theft can be high tech, low tech or, as in the case of Tulsa, Oklahoma native Peter Thomas, distinctly no tech.  Thomas had personal and financial information stolen from mail contained in his mailbox at the apartment complex where he lives.  I have often warned people about the danger of having your mail, such as credit card bills or bank statements stolen from your personal mailbox.  In addition, many people put themselves in great danger of identity theft by putting their outgoing mail in their mailbox and put up the red flag to alert the postman that there is mail to be picked up.  Unfortunately, that is also an alert to identity thieves cruising the neighborhood of mail to be easily stolen.

In the case of Peter Thomas, his mailbox should have been secured as it was locked, however, the locking systems of mailboxes in apartment complexes are often not particularly secure.

TIPS

In order to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft through your mailbox, you should make sure that it is securely locked so that it is not easily accessed by your friendly neighborhood identity thief and when it comes to outgoing mail, don’t put it in your mailbox for your postal carrier to pick up regardless of how convenient it may be to do so.  In fact, identity thieves have been known to steal mail from the U.S. Postal Service mailboxes found on the corners of major streets so, in order to be safe, you should mail your outgoing mail at the post office.   It may seem like this is being a bit excessive when it comes to protecting your mail, but remember, even paranoids have enemies.

Scam of the day – July 15, 2014 – Mailbox identity theft danger

Identity theft can be high tech, low tech or no tech and although much attention is often focused on computer phishing schemes, malware and other high tech methods of turning you into a victim of identity theft, low tech and no tech methods of identity theft can be equally as effective in stealing your identity.  One low tech method that has been around for a long time, but seems to be making a resurgence is when identity thieves put strong glue like the kind used on mouse trap paper is put on the inside of the swing-down chute in the mailboxes you find scattered throughout your city.  This glue traps mail on the chute rather than letting it go down into the mailbox when the lid is closed making it easy pickings for an identity thief who can be looking for checks you may be mailing to a business or a credit card payment.  Your check can either be altered through a process called “washing” so that the check is made to appear to be payable to the identity thief.   The identity thieves can also take the information from your check and make counterfeit checks in order to access your checking account.   They may also steal the information from your credit card statement to gain access to your credit card.

Another similar type of scam involves the identity thief putting the glue on a small object at the end of a string and lowering the string into the mailbox to go fishing for mail with checks, credit card statements or other information that can be used to make you a victim of identity theft.

TIPS

Although it seems like you should be able to trust the U.S. mail, you would be prudent to mail payments and letters with financial information directly from the post office rather than use vulnerable mailboxes.  You also should consider making your payments electronically which is even safer.  When you do use checks, you should use a type of pen called a gel pen which you can purchase at any office supply store.  The ink from these pens is almost impossible to wash off of a check by a counterfeiter.  Finally, do not put mail with personal information or checks in your own personal mailbox at your home.  Often people do this and raise the red flag on the mail box to inform the letter carrier  that there is outgoing mail to be picked up from your box.  Unfortunately, it also informs an identity thief cruising your neighborhood that there are “goodies” in your mailbox.