by Jonathan Copsey / Appen Newspapers
MILTON - Recently, the Milton Police Department received a resident complaint of possible mail theft in a city neighborhood. This is a common tactic employed by identity thieves in order to obtain personal information, warns Police Chief Deborah Harrell.
"We have had some problems with identity theft," said Captain Shawn McCarty. "What seems to be happening is that people will drive through a neighborhood looking for mailboxes with their flag up." The thieves then take the outgoing mail and look for identifying information such as bank account and personal ID numbers. This information can be used to open bank accounts or credit cards and ruin a person's credit rating through illegal charges.
"The main thing people want to be careful with is anything with personal information on it needs to be shredded or destroyed in some way," said McCarty.
For ways to protect yourself from being the victim of mail theft and identity fraud, see the sidebar (below).
In addition to the Milton Police Department's efforts, the United States Postal Service pays rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of mail thieves. You may report suspect or crime information to the United States Postal Inspection Service 24 hours a day at 1-877-876-2455 or https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov.
Follow these tips to protect from identify theft:
• Outgoing bills and checks should not be placed in the mailbox. Instead, take them to the Post Office.
• Did you know there are mailboxes made with locks? It is also easy to convert your current mailbox to one with a lock. Please note, however, that a postal employee cannot retrieve mail from one of these boxes.
• Do not put the red flag up on your mailbox. This is a clear signal outgoing mail is inside not only to the postal carrier, but criminals as well.
• Check your mail and empty your mailbox daily.
• When you travel, stop mail delivery or have a neighbor get your mail for you. If you move, notify the Post Office immediately of your new address.
• Do not have new checks mailed - pick them up at the bank. In addition, use direct deposit services from your banking institution whenever possible.
• When issuing checks to be mailed, write out in full the payee and memo portions. Fill up the entire lines with letters or lines. Also, use thick, dark ink (red ink is best) to write your checks. Opt for roller-ball pens and avoid felt-tip ones.
• Shred all pre-approved credit applications that come to you. Do not throw them away without destroying them.
• And most importantly, keep your eyes open. If you see someone in your neighborhood taking mail out of boxes, call the police. You are the eyes and ears of the police department.