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Recently an acquaintance of mind had a rather exasperating experience with her mail. She runs a small business, doing most of her business at home. Unfortunately, she also used her home mailbox to make some payments. If you are one of the many who pay your gas, electrical, cable or send any other check in the mail, this may be of interest to you.
As is normal when sending outgoing mail from a home mailbox, she put up the little red flag which signals to the mailman, “I have some stuff for you.” The mailman isn’t the only person who gets that message. Neighbors told her that they had seen someone snooping around in the mailboxes of the neighborhood, but nothing was done about it at the time. She had included in her outgoing mail several small checks for various different things, some as small as $5. When those checks did not show up at their destination, she put two and two together and realized that those checks had been stolen. She canceled the larger checks but thought the $25 fee to cancel the smaller ones was not worth it. Boy was she wrong.
Although the account was a business account, and the bank was supposed to honor only the signature of a few individuals, all of the information on most of the remaining checks was changed and the thief(s) made out checks for thousands of dollars, only to show up on bank statements later. After some financially painful and time consuming efforts, the bank did not charge her for the check fraud. This could have been a devastating incident had her business taken the loss.
Although this may be more of a security issue than a privacy issue, privacy and security are inextricably linked in this instance and the solution offers wisdom for seekers of either security or privacy. There are many things that can be done to avoid this kind of fraud. The simple answer is avoid the mail. Never put sensitive information, including checks or bank information, in the mail. Don’t forget that the integrity of the location of the receiver’s mail is also important. If you are sending checks to an unattended mailbox, you are undertaking the same risk.
If you must use mail, make sure that the source mailbox and the destination are both secure. For example, the electric bill will usually arrive at the business office of the electric company which is probably an attended mailbox, relatively safe from unwanted intruders.
If you need to send mail, The safest way is of course to hand deliver your sensitive mail to the post office yourself or with someone you trust. That is an admittedly labor intensive proposition. Still relatively safe, and less time and resource intensive, you may wish to use the outgoing mail at your place of business, if possible, which might be guarded until it is picked up by the mailman. Grocery and other stores also offer a mail drop that has eyes and cameras pointed at it at all times and makes it relatively difficult for bandits to make off with that loot.
Stay away from the highly visible blue mailboxes of the USPS and whatever you do, do not put your sensitive outgoing mail in your curb side mailbox. With the trouble that many banks are having these days, who knows if they will be “nice” enough to honor their contractual obligations and hold you harmless for their mistakes, let alone your own.
Another excellent option for receiving mail is through the use of a trusted and secure Commercial Mail Receiving Agency (CMRA) like Earth Class Mail. This can also serve the purpose of a ‘ghost address’ which greatly improves your personal privacy.
This is only a small sample of what can be done to protect your private and sensitive information that goes through the mail. If you want to create a complete strategy for protecting your privacy, get the book How To Vanish. These practices should help to keep you from unnecessary exposure.
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