Stealing mail for information is one of the fastest and easiest ways for criminals to pilfer money and it is currently on the rise in metropolises like Vancouver Canada where drug addition and an expensive lifestyle create a demand for quick money. According to a report by CTV television, most of the criminals are smart kids who come from wealthy families and who either want to maintain the lifestyle of their parents or maintain their dependency on drugs such as crystal meth. Currently there are over 300 perpetrators in the Vancouver area that are committing identity theft via stealing mail.
All a criminal needs is one piece of information such as a credit card number or bank account number and then they are off and running, gathering any additional information they need from other places such as facebook and myspace. Armed with your credit card number, birth date, address and other necessary information, the criminal then opens up an online bank account connecting to your bank number, and will take out credit cards in your name.
The CTV news report featured one man who had his bank account drained seven times over a three year period despite having flags on his account forbidding any online banking to take place.How could this happen? The criminals continuously dial the call centre until they get one person whom they can convince to remove the flag. The weak link in the system falls back to human error.
Mail theft is an easy way to steal identity because it is rarely protected to the extent that other info is. Mail with critical information can sit unguarded for the whole day or even for weeks if the owner is on vacation. Because of high density living in cities, this crime is growing because thieves can target apartment buildings, jimmying the lock on the banks of mailboxes, stealing dozens of resident’s mail in one fell swoop.
So how do we protect ourselves? There a several options. If you own a house, have a drop slot that goes right inside your house or have a mailbox with a locking lid. If you can’t be there to collect your mail in the morning or when it arrives, consider having taking out a PO Box. If you are on the Internet consider going “paperless” for your bills; have them emailed to you. Also note the day on your calendar when your bills are due to arrive; if they don’t arrive when due, check with your bank or the credit bureau to see if there has been any suspicious activity. Also alert your neighbours and ask if they are also missing their mail.
Treat your mail like the gold it is! Don’t leave it lying around in your car, or even around your house. If you have a locking filing cabinet for your bills, best to keep them in there. If you house is robbed no doubt the thieves will look for the bills as much as for the jewellery.
Get yearly credit reports from www.equifax.com and www.transunion.ca. Stagger the reports so you are getting one every six months. Check your reports for credit inquiries, loans or credit cards that aren’t yours. Some thieves will carry cards in your name and pay the bills for a year before making one big final purchase and then skipping town.
Look for early signs of ID theft such as small purchases on your card (a sign that a thief is testing the card for validity) and bills or invoices for small things you didn’t purchase. If you get a call from a creditor, don’t assume it’s a wrong number or a mistake if you didn’t ever have an account with that creditor. It could be a warning sign of ID theft.
One of the biggest tip-offs of being a victim of ID theft is that you get denied credit. Applying for too much credit makes your credit score go down so if you are denied credit, it could mean that thieves have been applying for credit in your name. If you find such signs, inform the credit agencies or banks that you did not make these transactions. The sooner you put a stop to the theft the better. Keeping aware and a tight reign on your finances is the best way to fight back against being the victim of ID theft.