When you picture a career criminal, your mind might wander to the sorts of characters you see on a late-night re-run of Law & Order or Criminal Minds. But outside of the world of television, crime can happen much closer to home.
Instances of mail fraud occur often enough that the United States Postal Service has its own safeguarding force — the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The federal law enforcement agency makes about 10,000 arrests a year in cases relating to mail theft, scams, and fraud. Here are a few surprising facts about the effect mail fraud can have on your own life.
1. What is Mail Fraud, Anyway?
Defined by US law, mail fraud is any criminal activity that uses the mail to obtain money or property under false pretenses; or to sell, distribute, exchange, supply, or use counterfeits. Criminals may use the US Postal Service to commit these acts, but they may also be guilty of mail fraud if they use a private or commercial mail carrier service.
Whether you realize it or not, you probably know the name of one of history’s most famous mail fraud perpetrators. Charles Ponzi, of Ponzi scheme fame, used postal reply coupons to build a pyramid scheme that made him over one million dollars a day at its height.
2. The US Postal Inspection Service’s Job
If you notice mail missing from your box, the Postal Inspection Service will definitely check it out. But the service also investigates post office robberies, suspicious packages, and assists other law enforcement agencies in investigations relating to the mail.
And they’re not all about crime! In cases of natural disaster, the US Postal Inspection Service arrives as soon as possible to restore mail service and allow people to communicate with their loved ones.
3. Mail Theft’s Link to Identity Theft
Our bills and financial statements are a common, if sometimes unwelcome, presence in the mailbox. But we don’t always realize how much personal information comes in those windowed envelopes.
If you want to make sure wandering eyes stay far away from your identity, shred bills and other personal mail after reading. And remember, even junk mail and credit card offers can come bearing personal details. If you’re sending a check or sensitive form via mail, look into some ways to make your envelope more secure.
4. Some Other Ways Criminals Use the Mail
The US Postal Service advises Americans that a number of fraud schemes may originate with a piece of mail. An official-looking letter may appear one day, informing the recipient that they are entitled to a Social Security payout or an insurance refund. The scammer may then follow the letter with a phone call, hoping that the letter has lent their scheme a sense of legitimacy.
Elderly Americans are often targeted in these schemes, and the US Postal Service offers advice and information specifically for those hoping to protect themselves.
How to Protect Yourself
One of the best ways to protect yourself and your household against mail fraud is to be aware. Collect your mail regularly, shred any communication containing personal information, and keep an eye out for suspicious mailings that may be part of a scam.
If you’re worried about the safety of your mail — maybe you travel often, or you’ve recently been a victim of identity theft and wish to take precautions — look into a secure mailbox. Let us help you find the perfect receptacle to keep your mail safe, whether it’s at your home or business!