Interestingly enough, Oklahoma City is a hotspot for all kinds of crime. Drug trafficking – check. Human trafficking – check. Identity theft – check. Wait…. identity theft? Yes. Oh, you thought that was all done on the internet? NOPE. Oklahoma City has three major interstates running right through the middle of it, meaning anyone who wants to commit a crime here can be in another state by simply driving three hours in any direction – and it takes longer than that for most crimes to even get reported.
I spent the majority of my law enforcement career teaching people how to protect themselves from becoming victims of crime – with identity theft being the most prominent. Identity thieves of this generation have to stay on their toes – new technology and new security tools force them to stay ahead of the latest ways to steal your information. We keep our computer security programs updated, change our passwords when prompted, and do everything we can to keep all of our information safe, right? That means we’re doing everything right, RIGHT?
Sure, there are always hackers looking for the newest way to steal your info online, but old school identity thieves are still using tried and true methods, and in some cases, you are actually giving your personal info right to them. Your home mailbox is a treasure trove of information about you and your family, and most of us don’t give it a second thought. How long does the mail sit in the box before you actually take it inside? How many people have had access to it? Let’s break your mail down into two categories – mail you’re sending out and mail you receive – and believe me, the experienced identity thieves know the value of both.
Do you mail out bills, enrollment forms, letters, or birthday cards from your house, or do you take them to a blue USPS box? Surprisingly enough, a lot of people haven’t jumped on the online-bill-pay bandwagon yet, and they still mail out personal checks. Thieves don’t even have to steal the check. They just borrow it for a few seconds. All they need is a photo of it, and then they can reseal the envelope and send your gas bill back on its merry way. You’ll never even know about the brief pit stop.
Homework Assignment: Look at a blank check in your checkbook. What personal information could someone get about you from one single check? Name, address, sometimes a phone number, name of your bank, the routing number (public info anyway), your checking account number, a copy of your signature, etc. What could someone do with that information?
In the interest of word count, I’m going to skip the dangerous practice of having prescription medication mailed to your house and left unattended on your porch for hours at a time, and go straight to credit card pre-approvals, medical EOBs, etc. We all get them. It’s a waste of paper and time and shredder blade integrity. Explanations of Benefits (EOBs) and other forms from medical offices or associations are just an open invitation for people to guess or verify what’s wrong with you, and then use it against you. Receiving an EOB from a cardiac procedure? You must be a heart patient. Receiving mail from Medicare? You must be on Medicare, and are probably over 65. (In law enforcement, we called that a clue.) Information like that makes it pretty easy to tailor a scam specifically to you.
Credit card applications and pre-approvals are a pain, too. Do you send them to the shredder without even opening them? Me too. But next time, take a closer look. A lot of them make it way too easy. You see, we live in a culture of convenience. We are so accustomed to things being easy. We don’t even have to get out of the car to grab cash from the bank, lunch, coffee, our dry cleaning, our prescriptions from the pharmacy, or our kid from school. We can take out a loan without ever stepping foot in the bank, and then sign all the forms on our phone and wait for the direct deposit. Companies cater to the fact that we like things better when they’re easy.
Open the next credit card pre-approval you get in the mail, check out what information they’ve pre-filled for you, and what meaningless actions you’d have to take to accept the offer. Oftentimes, a simple signature (which they can get from the checks in your outgoing bills, remember?), and address change can get the thief a credit card in your name, on your credit, sent to their house. The bills will go to their house, too, so you may not ever know about it until you try to buy a new car or a house, and an outstanding credit card account with $20k in past due charges shows up on your credit report.
Homework Assignment: For one week, actually open and read every piece of mail you receive. Don’t automatically shred anything. Think like a thief. Open it and see what people could have discovered about you today. You’ll be surprised. Shred it, and go get a locking mailbox or PO Box. Then, mark your calendar to check your credit report as much as possible. You can do it for free HERE.
Questions? Just ask!