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How to Prevent Mail Theft (And What to Do When It Happens)

How to Prevent Mail Theft (And What to Do When It Happens)

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Recently in our area, it seems that mail theft has become a common issue. On the local news, there have been numerous reports of people getting their mail stolen in neighborhoods close to where we live.

Nothing is worse than having a gift for your child stolen from your doorstep by some low-life criminal. Equally as bad is having your mail stolen, which can potentially lead to anything from missed payments on your bills to even identity theft.

Luckily, this hasn’t happened to us yet, but we do take some preventative measures and are also fortunate in that our house is pretty far off the road. Nonetheless, mail theft can happen to anyone and is something that we obviously don’t want to have happen to us.

Fortunately, there are some pretty simple steps you can take to decrease the chances of someone stealing your mail. Below, I will cover several of these steps and also discuss what to do if your mail ends up in the wrong hands.

How to Prevent Mail Theft

As long as there is mail being delivered to our mailboxes and packages being left at the door, mail theft will continue to be an issue. While it might be difficult to completely eliminate the chance of someone taking your mail, there are some easy things you can do to increase the likelihood of your mail making it to you, the rightful owner.

1 – Get Your Mail Daily

If you’re going to have mail delivered to your home, the most important thing you can do is to collect it daily.

By leaving your mail in the mailbox overnight, not only are you increasing the amount of time that your mail is left vulnerable to theft, but you’re also leaving it exposed during the night when it’s easier for a thief to steal.

By not picking up your mail daily, you’re also signaling to potential burglars that no one is home. In other words, you’re making your home an ideal target through the eyes of a criminal.

2 – Ask a Neighbor to Get Your Mail

If you’re regularly away from your home when the mail is delivered, as most of us our, ask a neighbor to pick up your mail for you. This of course assumes that you have a good relationship with a neighbor that is either retired or works from home.

Both at our last house and our current house, we’ve had retired neighbors that go out and get their mail in person when the mail carrier arrives. If you have neighbors doing the same thing, it’s not much to ask them to grab your mail at the same time.

3 – Install a Mailbox with a Lock

If you don’t want to rely on a neighbor to pick up your mail, one of the best solutions to prevent mail theft is to install a mailbox with a lock. A lockable mailbox has an small opening to allow mail and small packages to be placed inside, but nothing can be retrieved without a key.

If you go with a lockable mailbox, just be aware that outgoing mail will still not be secured. USPS mail carriers are not expected to carry keys or unlock your mailbox. We’ll look at a couple of options for outgoing mail a little further below.

4 – Install a Mail Alert System

If you are comfortable using a regular mailbox without a lock, a great way to ensure that you pick up your mail right away is by using a mail alert system.

A mail alert system can be thought of as a doorbell for your mail deliveries. When someone opens your mailbox, a wireless signal is transmitted from a device in your mailbox to a receiver in your home, which audibly and visually alerts you that you have mail.

This is a nice solution as long as you’re typically home when your mail is delivered.

5 – Install a Security Camera

Installing security cameras around your house is one of many ways to deter potential burglars. Just like they can deter home burglars, they can also work for mail thieves if you have a camera covering your mailbox and/or your normal package-delivery location.

If you don’t want to spend the money on a surveillance system, just get a camera without the system. A thief won’t be able to tell the difference, so they work well as deterrents.

6 – Go Paperless

We live in an ever-increasing digital world. With that being said, one of the best steps you can take to reduce the headaches associated with mail theft is to eliminate as much of your mail as possible.

Almost all financial institutions that you work with for your bank accounts, credit cards, mortgage, etc. offer online bill payments and electronic statements. By taking advantage of these digital options, you’ll significantly reduce the amount of mail making its way to your mailbox with PII.

7 – Have Your Mail Delivered to a P.O. Box

If you don’t want to worry about your mail being delivered to your house at all, a good option is to rent a Post Office box at your local post office. With a P.O. box, your home address won’t be listed on your mail, and your mail will be delivered to a secure box at your post office.

The drawbacks of using a P.O. box are that you have to pay for it and you have to regularly stop by your post office to pick up your mail.

8 – Have Your Packages Delivered to a Local UPS Store

Most people know that you can rent a P.O. box from your local post office, but not many are aware that you can do the same thing from your local UPS Store.

When you rent a mailbox from a local UPS store, you’re given an actual street address, which you can use to receive mail and packages from any carrier.

9 – Have Your Packages Delivered to a Different Address

One method that I’ve used several times in the past is to have my mail delivered to my parents’ house.

My parents are retired and live in a relatively safe neighborhood, so when I order something large or expensive online, I have it delivered to their house so they can grab it right away.

This option is better suited for situations where you know you won’t be home when the mail is delivered and you don’t feel comfortable with it sitting there until you get home.

10 – Have Your Packages Delivered to the Store

An option that we also commonly use when ordering online from retailers with a local store is to choose in-store pickup as the delivery method. Just like with a P.O. box, this requires you to go somewhere to pick up your package, but since you’re not doing it regularly, it’s not as big of a deal.

Aside from keeping packages from being delivered to your house, using in-store pickup typically results in free shipping.

11 – Postpone Mail Delivery While on Vacation

If you know you’re going to be away from your house for an extended period of time, make sure to put your mail on hold with USPS.

By not postponing the delivery of your mail, you’re leaving it exposed for a long period of time. You’re also making it very clear to burglars that no one is home, as mentioned above.

Another option is to simply have a friend or relative pick up your mail while you’re gone, which is what we’ve always done in the past.

12 – Ask Your Delivery Person to Leave Packages in Less-Visible Areas

If you frequently receive packages at your home, it might be worth the effort to talk to your delivery person about leaving your packages in a designated area that isn’t too visible to someone who happens to walk by. This location might be behind a landscaping element in your yard or even behind your house.

Keep in mind that your delivery person will take vacations and could potentially be replaced with another delivery person down the road, so don’t be surprised if your packages suddenly start showing up on your front porch again.

13 – Give Outgoing Mail Directly to Your Carrier or Use a Local Drop-Off

I’ve mostly discussed incoming mail, but outgoing mail is just as big of an issue, especially if you frequently mail out checks or other documents with personally identifiable information.

With outgoing mail, you have a couple of secure options. One is to simply give your mail to the mail carrier when they stop by your house each day. Our neighbors do this, but it’s only an option if you’re home during the day when your mail is delivered.

Another option is to drop your mail off at a local mail drop-off. This is what we do. Every time we go grocery shopping, we just take our mail with us and drop it off before going in. You should be able to find drop-off locations in your area pretty easily.

Either of these methods work well to keep your outgoing mail out of the wrong hands.

What to Do When Someone Steals Your Mail

Sometimes, all the preventative measures in the world aren’t enough to stop the bad guys. If you took the steps above and still suspect that someone stole your mail, here’s what you should do.

Check with Your Neighbors

Before you jump to conclusions and assume that your mail was stolen, check with your neighbors to see if they have what you’re looking for.

It’s not uncommon for mail to be delivered to the wrong address, and even if you had a package delivered to your address, a neighbor might have grabbed it for you because they were worried about someone taking it while you were at work.

Check with Your Mail Carrier

While there’s a good chance that your mail carrier won’t know anything about your missing mail, it doesn’t hurt to check with them. It’s always possible that they left the package in an unusual location near your house or that it didn’t make it on their truck due to a logistics issue.

If they at least remember whether or not they delivered something, it might send you in the right direction.

File a Complaint with Your Local Police and the Postal Inspection Service

If you suspect that your mail has indeed been stolen, the next step is to file a complaint with your local police and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. While filing a complaint doesn’t guarantee that your mail will be returned, it does at least help the authorities identify geographical areas where there are issues.

Check Your Credit

If the mail that was stolen contained personally identifiable information, make sure you check your credit report to see if there’s any suspicious activity. If you do find something that clearly indicates an issue, contact all of the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and ask for fraud alert to be activated on your account.

Final Thoughts

Depending on the crime rate in your area, mail theft may or may not be a major concern to you. Regardless, it does happen, even in low-crime areas, and is something that we all need to be aware of.

Thankfully, by following some of the simple steps outlined above, you can drastically lower the chances of someone taking your mail and feel better about ordering items online to be delivered to your home (or elsewhere).