Mail Tampering & Protecting Yourself

Tampering with the mail is a Federal crime. If you see someone other than a postal worker taking anything from your mailbox or a person doing something suspicious with a post office drop box, call the police immediately. Most people who steal mail do it for the purposes of stalking, fraud and identity theft, so it’s not something to turn a blind eye to. Some people mistakenly believe a thief can’t cash their paycheck or get information that would allow a thief to fraudulently open credit cards in their name or fraudulently use their Social Security number. A thief could also re-route your mail by fraudulently submitting a change of address form while pretending to be you.

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Concerned? Here are some good questions to ask:

How do I tell who my postmaster is or which my local post office is?

In some areas it is obvious, if you live in a small town with only a single post office, you know where your post office is, and if you have a serious concern, you can phone or visit your post office and ask to speak to the postmaster. The postmaster is the supervisor of that post office and should be contacted if there is an issue with fraud, mail tampering, or any other serious issue.

In other areas, you may not know which post office is the one your mail is routed through for delivery. Here is an easy way to find out

Type in your address and your local post office should be the top result. This will also show you the branch phone number (the number with a local area code), operational hours and additional services that branch may provide.

How would I know if someone had re-routed my mail?

You would stop getting mail addressed to you and only receive mail addressed to current resident or other members of your household. Mail you know was sent to you never arrives. If your paychecks, regular bills and bank statements don’t arrive, this is a problem. If you still get some of these but not others, your mail probably hasn’t been fraudulently forwarded. The missing mail is still cause for concern because it may have been lost or stolen.

If things like these (checks, bills, statements, etc) disappear, it’s a good idea to confirm they were sent and if they still don’t arrive, contact your local postmaster.

How would I know if a bank account or credit card is open in my name?

If you receive credit cards you didn’t apply for, start getting calls from debt-collectors (calling for you), or suddenly are denied credit for no apparent reason, these are a few red flags. Act immediately. Run a credit report. Don’t count on receiving a statement for a credit card fraudulently opened in your name. Chances are a thief will give a different address or opt to receive information online so that you don’t catch them in the act.
There are 3 national credit bureaus Equifax, Transunion and Experian. You can get a credit report for free here that will give you all of these.

In your report you will find out all the places where you have credit under your name, so banks where you have an account and/or credit cards and the numbers associated with these. If you see a bank or credit card number that isn’t yours, that is cause for concern and you should immediately file a dispute. This means if there is a bank account, calling the bank and telling them that this account was not opened by you. If it is a credit card- call that company (Visa, Master Card, American Express, Discover, etc.) and tell them this is not your card. Other warning signs: be immediately suspicious if your credit report shows any past or current addresses that are not yours, lawsuits, arrests or filing for bankruptcy.

How do I know if my identity or Social Security number is being used by someone else?

Your Social Security Number is the way a lot of financial institutions, government agencies, schools, and employers identify you. If you are concerned about someone using your SSN to make fraudulent purchases, read the answer to the question above “How would I know if a bank or credit card is open in my name?”

Other issues you could suffer as a result: vary from having fraudulent purchases made in your name, everything from house utilities to cars. Making fraudulent purchases on your bank account or credit cards, opening new bank accounts and writing bad checks, even declaring bankruptcy in your name! If you think you might be a victim of identity theft, you should act as soon as possible to prevent damage to your credit and general headaches.

Sometimes a person will “borrow” a Social Security number and use it to apply for work. This is often the case for undocumented workers. Other than being an unwitting accomplice to this, you can suffer some issues such as having creditors show up to collect their unpaid taxes or bills. Use of a SSN by a second party with a different name will not necessarily show up on a standard credit report and agencies such as banks may be unable to tell you of any other names due to privacy rules.

What should I do if I find out I have been the victim of identity theft?

Call your bank(s) and let them know the situation immediately. Banks have different procedures when dealing with fraud, ask what you should do. Depending on what has happened, some will want you to start a new account and close a compromised one, or if nothing has happened involving that account, they can flag it for suspicious activity that may crop up.

Contact your local law enforcement branch. Identity theft is a felony. You do not have to know the real name of the thief or their contact information but obviously the more information you can provide your local police, the better.

Experian, Equifax and Trans Union credit bureaus each have a fraud department and hotline. You will want to contact each and tell them you are the victim of identity theft.
  • Experian (1-888-EXPERIAN)
  • Equifax (1-800-525-6285)
  • Trans Union (1-800-680-7289)

Ask them to flag your account with a fraud alert. Also request they put in a victim’s statement asking creditors to call and speak directly to you before making any changes to an existing account or opening a new one.

Contact the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) Identity Theft Hotline (1-877-IDTHEFT). To find out more general information made available by the FTC about Identity Theft and how to avoid it visit the FTC site here.

What do I do if I will be on a trip and don’t want mail to accumulate while I’m not there?

If you don’t have someone watching your house, it’s a good idea to have your mail held for you so it can’t be stolen from your mailbox. This service costs nothing and you can have mail held from 3 up to 30 days. A “hold mail” can be requested up to 2 weeks in advance. You can specify when you want your mail delivery to resume if you know the exact date you will return. Upon returning you can go to the Post Office and retrieve all your mail.

You can call 1-800-275-8777 to set up a mail hold or in some areas, you can request a mail hold online. Enter your zip code on this site to find out.

Even if foul play is not involved, mail can still be taken from standard mail boxes by curious children and even animals. If you think your mail might be disappearing, you could set up a hidden camera, but an easier solution is a locking mailbox. With a locking mailbox, you are the only key holder, and your incoming mail is protected. Outbound mail is often not protected in these, so if you are very concerned about that, you might want to drop that mail off at the post office. If you purchase a locking mailbox, be sure the model is USPS approved. The USPS sets out guidelines to manufacturers for the requirements of an acceptable mailbox. There is a large variety available, but any that you get must be USPS approved in order to ensure you get mail delivery.

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