This is a consumer advice column written by the Better Business Bureau of Northern Indiana. It appears Thursdays in Business.
Like garbage cans, unsecured mailboxes can be goldmines for identity thieves. You may think you have buried your personal information among layers of garbage, but think again.
A couple of years back, mailboxes in my neighborhood were broken into. Let's look at a few items that are generally found in our mailboxes: bank statements and bills containing personal information; pre-approved credit card offers that, when stolen from your mailbox, are invitations for crooks to open new lines of credit under your name; basic junk mailings contain the names and addresses that could attract dumpster-divers who sell contact information as leads to outside marketers.
This epidemic is not going to let up, so here are a few steps your BBB recommends you do:
•Retrieve mail quickly. Notify the Post Office to hold mail if out of town.
•Consider investing in locking mailboxes or PO boxes.
•If you have an unsecured mailbox, any personal or identifiable information should be mailed from the post office. It might be inconvenient, but it is safer.
•Shred unneeded mail; do not just throw it away.
•Go paperless with secure online statements.
•Avoid signing up for unnecessary programs or services.
•Opt-out from bulk mailing lists.
•Unsolicited mail: Contact the Direct Marketing Association at 1-212-768-7277, Ext. 1888, or dmachoice.org.
•Pre-approved credit card offers: Contact the Consumer Credit Reporting Industry at 1-888-567-8688 or optoutprescreen.com.
•Catalogs, coupons and resident mailings: Ask senders directly. Contact Epsilon, Abacus and Shopper's Voice at 1-888-780-3870, 1-888-780-3869 or epsilon.com. Contact Valassis and RedPlum at 1-800-437-0479, Ext. 3, or redplum.com. Contact Cox Target Media and Valpak at 1-800-499-0473, press # and Ext. 2, or coxtarget.com.
Other tools include catalogchoice.org, paperkarma.com and 41pounds.org.