Expecting something important in the mail today? You might not be the only one interested in what's delivered. Some dastardly types prey on mailboxes in the hopes of intercepting something valuable. This crime is particularly popular around the holidays and during tax time.

The kinds of things they are looking for include:

  • Cash and change (for obvious reasons)
  • Outgoing checks (they can be chemically washed and rewritten)
  • Incoming new checks (thieves recognize the shape of the box)
  • Greeting cards (they often have cash or checks in them)
  • Utility bills (the info in these can be used to open fraudulent accounts in your name)
  • Bank statements (the info in these can be used to steal from your account)
  • Credit card statements (same as above)
  • Credit card offers (these may be used to open an account in your name and stick you with the bill)
  • Tax returns and refunds (and documents with personal information -- e.g. your W-2 or 1099s) -- anything that makes it easier to perpetrate credit fraud or identity theft.

A Fool reader who works for a firm that makes high-security mailboxes offered some great tips on preventing mail theft.

  1. Take outgoing mail directly to the post office. Raised red flags on mailboxes are advertisements to mail thieves.
  2. Collect mail promptly after delivery, if you can. Perhaps look into getting a locking mailbox.
  3. If you're going on vacation, have the post office hold your mail -- there's a simple form to fill out for this service.
  4. Think twice before having someone collect your mail. Your sweet neighbor may be an identity thief -- you never know.
  5. Be sure the mailbox you drop your mail into is actually a mailbox. One popular scam of thieves is to park fake mailboxes in a busy area for a few hours, to collect mail from unsuspecting dupes (like you or me).
  6. Report any suspicious activity or possibly stolen mail to your post office ASAP.

You can monitor whether anyone is messing with your credit cards (and thereby your credit report and credit score) by getting a copy of your credit report from all three major reporting agencies at annualcreditreport.com.

Our credit collection features much more guidance and tips, including info on how to avoid identity theft and how to dig out from under credit card debt. See:

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Dayana Yochim updated this article, originally written by Selena Maranjian and published Aug. 11, 2004. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool has a disclosure policy.