Tax Time Identity Theft

Identity theft increases by seven percent during tax season from March through June. What is the primary source of this identity theft? Your mailbox. If you use “snail mail” to pay bills or receive checks you need to be aware, especially during this time of year.

These identity thieves are not the high tech savvy online Phishers that bombard you with emails claiming to be the IRS in hopes of getting your personal information. They physically use their hands to literally “fish” in mailboxes. This type of “fishing” accounts for approximately four percent of all identity theft which increases during tax season. The raised flags on home mailboxes that indicate to a postal worker to pick up outgoing mail are actually a bright red beacon for an identity thief. It is easy for them to walk by your mailbox and quickly take whatever may be in there. They also like to target the big mailboxes on street corners by dropping a string or fishing line with a sticky substance on the end of the line to pull up letters, etc. If you suspect that mailboxes are being “fished” in your neighborhood, notify the United States Postal Service so they can install anti-fishing devices in them. These devices are interior panels that block all access through the drop slot.

Once the thief has your check in hand it’s a simple process for them to take the check and “wash” it. After applying tape over the signature to protect it, they soak it with chemicals to remove the date, the amount, etc. After the wash process, they have a blank check signed by you along with your checking account number. You owed the IRS money and you mailed them your check…or so you thought, but before it gets to the IRS someone steals it. The thief is now using your check for any amount they want and the IRS is still waiting for your payment.

How can you keep this from happening? It is very simple; always mail any payments at the Post Office. If you must use a mail box, use one at a busy corner, the grocery store, or better yet use the mailbox outside the Post Office. Those are usually protected by a security camera. Never use your home mailbox to send outgoing mail. When you raise your Red Flag, you are inviting thieves to take your mail. Also, use a “gel” pen such as a Uniball pen to write checks. Most of these contain a special type of ink that is resistant to check-washing.

In many parts of the country, identity thieves will monitor when a home has sold. They are targeting young couples and couples with small children fitting the perfect demographic for first time home buyers. Those first time home buyers may be getting a very large check in the mail and these houses are watched very carefully by thieves for that reason.

Right now mailboxes are filling up with outgoing and incoming mail that contain personal information and very large checks. If you are not home when your mail arrives, you may want to invest in a P.O. Box. They are inexpensive and priceless if they help you avoid the nightmare of becoming a victim of someone stealing your money and your identity.

Identity thieves are usually desperate, but often smart people who come up with amazing ways to steal your identity. While there may be no way to completely stay ahead of them, there are a few common sense things we can do to circumvent them. Identity theft 101 – don’t let your mail box become your Achilles heel when it comes to identity theft.