What to do about stolen mail?

When I came home on Wednesday, there was no mail in our mailbox. That seemed strange, but it happens sometimes. I didn't think much about it.

Tonight, though, we realized we were missing our latest Netflix movies. We checked the web site, and sure enough — they should have arrived Wednesday. “Uh oh,” I said. “This could be trouble.”

“We mostly get catalogs and personal finance magazines,” Kris said. “We don't get checks in the mail. Could a thief really have nabbed anything important?”

“It's tax season,” I said. “We've received most of our documents, but not all of them. We don't have the interest statement for your bank account, for example. That probably has your social security number on it.”

“What can we do?” Kris said. It was 8 p.m. Friday evening.

I googled for information about stolen mail. Ironically, one of the top results was a Get Rich Slowly article from last February: “What To Do If Your Identity is Stolen”. After re-reading that post (and the comments that follow), I plan to:

  • Check our credit reports. AnnualCreditReport.com is an official, government-approved site through which consumers can request one yearly report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. We cold request them all at once or we could stagger them. I'll stagger my requests. I'll make my first check tonight, and my second in a couple weeks. (Update: my credit report is currently clean.)
  • Open a post-office box. I rejected the idea before now because it seemed like an unnecessary expense. I'm going to do more research into this. I'll also price security mailboxes.
  • Speak with our postal carrier tomorrow. It's too bad we didn't realize there was a problem today — she had to bring a package to the door, and we could have talked to her then.
  • Report the theft to the police. I'm sure there's nothing they can do, but it never hurts to alert the authorities.
  • Check with the neighbors. If they're missing Wednesday's mail, we can be certain there's a problem.

I've been dreading something like this. The rising threat of identity theft is one of the reasons I've been moving to a paperless personal finance system. We're pretty diligent about shredding documents, but I've always felt the mailbox was the weak link in our security chain. It's time we address that, I guess. Odds are nothing critical was taken. However, there's a possibility that you'll be seeing a lot of articles about identity theft here in the near future.

“One thing's for sure,” Kris said. “Whoever stole our mail isn't going to be impressed with the Netflix movies they got: True Grit and The Razor's Edge.” HA!

Have you ever had your mail stolen? Can you offer us any advice? What can you tell us about post office boxes?

(See also the U.S. Postal Service's guide to protecting your mail from thieves.)

Update

Our mail carrier just came to the door. She says that her route has had a terrible problem with mail theft lately, though not on this street. While we were with her, she called her supervisor, who said that we should contact the county sheriff's non-emergency line and go to the USPS site to file a notice. The supervisor also noted that there was a huge bout of mail theft all over the area last week (not just on our carrier's route). People are apparently after refund checks to fund their drug habits.

Our carrier told us a story about how one time she'd left mail in a fellow's box, drove up the street and then back down, and the guy came out wondering where his mail was. In just a few minutes, it had been stolen. The guy eventually found it in some nearby bushes, torn open and left behind.

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IO
IO
12 years ago

I’m sorry this happened to you. Getting anything stolen from a supposedly secure location is always jarring to say the least. Hopefully they didn’t get anything with your identifying information and Netflix lets you off on this one.

sabrina
sabrina
12 years ago

Yikes. I hope this turns out all right for you. For what it’s worth, I have terrible mail service, and Netflix has always been good to me with regard to reporting discs lost. Hopefully they didn’t get your SSNs! How upsetting the not knowing must be.

Kacie
Kacie
12 years ago

That’s really lousy. I hope they didn’t get anything important.

You might let your neighbors know, since if someone took your mail, they’d probably take someone else’s, as well.

Also, have you looked into a service like LifeLock? It’s pricey, but it might give you some peace of mind.

Finally, why not call your bank and find out if they put social security numbers on those interest statements, to be sure.

My SSN wasn’t on mine.

Zyzzyx
Zyzzyx
12 years ago

I live in a neighborhood that goes in and around a golf course. Its not a country club, but we do have on overall homeowners’ assocation. Since the area was built up in the early 80’s the mail has been delivered to standard mailboxes that were clustered 3-6 in a group. Over the last few years there’s been plenty of mail theft in the area, so the HOA got involved. It took nearly two years, but we now have secure 16 space locked mailboxes, the kind you often see in newer subdivisions. So nice to have the mail secure, not… Read more »

Joe
Joe
12 years ago

I have been paranoid about this for years. A few years ago, our mailbox, which sits at the curb, was accidentally knocked over by a neighbor. The guy who came in to rebuild it (it’s brick) dissuaded my wife from putting in a secure box, and I’ve been worried about it ever since.

Half of the time when I’m working from home, I have my ear out for the mail truck so I can grab the mail as soon as it’s here.

I’ve reduced most of the financial mail we receive, but I’m still waiting for tax documents.

Jeremy
Jeremy
12 years ago

Unfortunately I don’t have any sage advice to offer you, only my sympathies. From experience, small things like this generally get logged by the police but don’t expect anything to be done. My wife had her purse stolen out of our garage (kids left it unlocked) and the police did n-o-t-h-in-g. There were a rash of houses hit, so it was not just us either. How do I know nothing was done you ask? Before one of the cards was canceled the thief charged up a bunch in the local Wal-mart self-checkout line. We found they had surveillance available, so… Read more »

Gary
Gary
12 years ago

First, thanks for all the articles! Second, sorry this happened to you.

I have rented a PO Box close to my office and requested that all my mail be delivered there. I only had one problem, but a call to the company’s loss prevention department got a quick response. A PO Box is inexpensive insurance.

Gary

W
W
12 years ago

I’ve become something of a personal privacy nutcase over the last couple years and got my first PO Box back then and haven’t looked back. The nice thing about it is that your mail is always waiting for you, regardless of whether or not you’ve been on vacation or just too damned lazy to check it. Most mail centers have extra services attached to their PO Box service. Some nice perks that I’ve enjoyed since I switched to a UPS PO Box: they let you phone in to inquire about whether you’ve got any mail to pick up, they give… Read more »

Laura H.
Laura H.
12 years ago

I hope they did watch _True Grit_! It is a real inspiration when it comes to integrity.

fathersez
fathersez
12 years ago

I really don’t know if we ever had our mail stolen. I doubt it though.

But the postman often drops in other people’s letters into our box. We take the trouble to re-post them.

We have often wondered if others do the same.

Julia
Julia
12 years ago

I’ve found my mail on the side of the road a house away, and I’ve found mail in my mailbox opened by someone but left there. Mailboxes really aren’t that secure, are they? I opened a PO Box when I was engaged because you give your address to so many potential vendors and end up on all sorts of mailing lists. I didn’t want to deal with the wedding stuff once we were married. After the wedding I wasn’t great about checking it regulary, and eventually I missed a bill for the PO Box which had been sent to the… Read more »

Cara
Cara
12 years ago

I opened a private mailbox when I was renting a house (which did not have a secure mailbox). I hated the extra expense but didn’t want my mail stolen. Last year I bought a condo and now I have a secure entry and mailbox, so I canceled the private box. The problem: private mail outlets like these will not forward your mail. I checked with another private mailbox center and they told me the same thing. Don’t know if it’s a Seattle thing or what, but it’s incredibly inconvenient. I actually ended up paying for the mailbox for a few… Read more »

Adam
Adam
12 years ago

This mailbox covered in bees may help:

http://www.sembabees.org/gallery/mailbox_bees.html

pril
pril
12 years ago

We have a PO box. I don’t mind paying the extra money for it. Our mailbox is on a busy street with a lot of foot traffic.

Deborah
Deborah
12 years ago

I live in apartment with locked mailboxes, but my parents live in a neighbourhood where on occasion there is a problem with mail theft. They invested in a mailbox with a lock, so that mail can easily be put in, but cannot be taken out without a key (it’s pretty big too). Then they don’t have to deal with the inconvenience of a post office or UPS store box.

This is pretty much the one they have:
http://www.themailboxsuperstore.com/post-mount-mailboxes/aluminum/pinnaclelockingmailboxheavyduty.cfm?source=affiliates&bid=155641&aid=CD3286&opt=

A bit pricey, but could be worth it in the long run.

Sue
Sue
12 years ago

Our first home had a free-opening mailbox as well as a slot at the front door. First thing we did when we moved in was remove the mailbox. I’m not sure if the postal workers appreciated the springy snap-shut of the front door slot but it eased my mind about the whole identity theft thing. The door slot wasn’t large enough for certain packages and when we weren’t home sometimes Canada Post would leave them on the doorstep kind of concealed beside the chimney. They are supposed to leave a card telling you to pick it up at the nearest… Read more »

MizD
MizD
12 years ago

If you’ve got a heightened risk for identity theft because the stolen mail may include a stolen SSN, you can file a 90 day fraud alert with Equifax (or one of the other two major agencies) and then request a free credit report even if you’ve just gotten one from annualcreditreport.com. I just went through this myself after finding mysterious, electronically-issued checks in my bank account.

Phill
Phill
12 years ago

As I’m not from the states and so I don’t exactly understand why there’s a difference, but in the UK practically every house has a letterbox in the door, so the mail falls onto the doormat inside (or as our used to do, into the gap where the floorboards didn’t meet the doorframe!). The only issue is that letters have to be pushed right through the letterbox, otherwise they hang out and can still be stolen. Would it not be possible to put a letterbox in your door? It seems quite strange to me to just have a box in… Read more »

Frugal Bachelor
Frugal Bachelor
12 years ago

I think paperless is the best long term solution.

I get practically no mail, and I only pick up mail once a week (I have a secure mailbox in my apartment complex). I only get 3-4 important pieces of mail per year if that – things like new credit cards, new driver’s license, jury summons, and that’s pretty much it. Most of the mail I do receive is balance transfer checks.

Doesn’t Netflix have streaming service now? Sorry, but I could not imagine messing with mailing DVD’s back and forth with the technology available today.

Peter
Peter
12 years ago

I think you are blowing this out of proportion. You have jumped all the way to identity theft simply because a single Netflix movie hasn’t arrived on time.
This is probably nothing. Don’t be sucked in by all the news and hype over identity theft.

True identity theft is a very serious but also pretty rare occurance. It’s more likely the movie is being watched by your mail carrier or lodged behind a postal bin somewhere. Wait a week, tell Netflix it never arrived and move on.

momnov
momnov
12 years ago

I have had my mail stolen. Checks were used to purchase meth making supplies. It took over a year before the person was caught. You are wise to pay very close attention to everything. IF something was stolen, you need to report it to the police and to the postmaster in your area. You will need those documents in case your identity is stolen. There may be a pattern in the neighborhood and the police will want to know about your incident. We bought a locking mailbox, but my children were able to get mail out of it. A door… Read more »

June
June
12 years ago

I think the steps you’ve outlined are good, but you also might want to check with your wife’s bank, and any other entities you haven’t yet received tax documents from, to double check when (and if) those went out. It will either give you some assurance (if they haven’t gone out yet) or give you some idea as to when the problem started.

the 40's gal
the 40's gal
12 years ago

If your letter carrier will walk to your door, I’d put a good mail slot in the door. I have one in my current house, and I’d never go back now.
(Incidentally, I also have a PO box for some business stuff, and it’s a pain to visit, even though it’s local to me.)

MJ
MJ
12 years ago

I would check with the PO. I use PaperBackSwap a lot, and many people use the USPS’s Delivery Confirmation system and can track a package’s progress online. We’ve all noticed that it often takes several days from the time a PBS book is received by the local PO to the time it actually arrives in the recipient’s mailbox. It’s also possible that your mail was misdelivered, and it might be taking a while to be redelivered to you. My mother got scared about mail theft and had a mail slot put in her door. She feels a lot more secure… Read more »

SingleGuyMoney
SingleGuyMoney
12 years ago

That sucks. Hopefully, it wasn’t stolen and it will arrive today. When I moved to my home, they were still building out the development they temporarily put all the unlocked mailboxes right next to each other until they put them in front of the individual houses. Eventually, they decided to do a mailstation with locked mailboxes. I’m happy that I don’t have to worry about anyone just taking my mailout of my mailbox now.

Camilla
Camilla
12 years ago

I’m glad we don’t have mailboxes in the UK – means i don’t have to worry about it getting nicked (unless the thief is actually *in* the house, in which case i have a whole load of other problems to worry about instead, lol) and plus i don’t have to go outside into the cold to collect my parcels! I love the *idea* of a mailbox, but practically speaking i think i’d hate it. I’d definitely have a secure one, if i had to have one at all. Sorry to hear you may have had some stuff stolen, i hope… Read more »

Matt
Matt
12 years ago

One solution is to get a mailbox with a lock on it and a slot for putting the mail into. This is an alternative to a letter slot if your mail carrier won’t allow you one. It’s cheaper than a PO box b/c you don’t have to pay continually. You can make it yourself with a reciprocating saw and a tin mailbox. Just padlock it. If you need to post letters you can attach a clothespin on the exterior or something more attractive if you are particular. We have a letterbox at home (Portland, OR). Even a nifty frame for… Read more »

jr
jr
12 years ago

http://www.earthclassmail.com

This is the best new way for mail. I think they would allow a discount for an known blogger. I have not tried it but look forward to your review good or bad.

Steven
Steven
12 years ago

Are you sure it was stolen? I live in Chicago and the postal department here is terribly understaffed. It took the post office department 11 days to get my Netflix return from zip code 60614 to their facility in zip code 60680 (14 blocks from my apartment). And I always use the post office. You’re asking for trouble if you use the blue boxes on the street corners. If you feel your mail has been stolen, call your local post office and ask for the fraud and security unit. They ask you some questions over the phone, and send you… Read more »

Kathryn
Kathryn
12 years ago

We had a neighborhood problem with stolen mail a few years ago including SS checks, etc. that were ending up with a ring of thieves in San Jose CA instead of the neighborhor’s bank accounts. My husband and I contacted the post office and they put in the locking mailboxes for everyone. We just had to lay a concrete pad for the boxes to be secured to. The neighbors all pitched in for the cost and my husband laid the concrete. We had to wait a few days for the post office to get the boxes in stock but once… Read more »

rhbee
rhbee
12 years ago

I live in California and have had the same post box for 30 years still Cara is correct in saying that if I want to stop using it they wont forward my mail. On the other hand, I have lived in 10 different places since I started using this box and I have never lost a piece of mail. And, something about being able to use this address has given me both stability and anonymity. But that’s just me and my 60’s sensibility that learned that the less “they” know about us the better.

db
db
12 years ago

JD, if you’re really worried about identity theft, you could put a block on your credit. Oh heck, I’ve forgotten the exact term for it. But what it does is it makes it impossible for anybody (even yourself) to open credit on your ssn without your written approval on a case by case basis. If your tax documents were stolen with your ssn, I would think it would be more likely that they’d try to use it to do something like that (or do something like use it to gain an improper id) than try to use an existing credit… Read more »

Chief Family Officer
Chief Family Officer
12 years ago

I’m sorry this happened to you. I’m going through something similar and I hate the stress!

the.arctic
the.arctic
12 years ago

Something similar happened to me a couple years ago. I had ordered some DVDs at the same time as tax season and when they came I had 3 tax forms in the mailbox. Thankfully whoever stole my mail took the DVDs and left the tax stuff in the parking lot of an apartment complex a few blocks away. They opened them, but I’m fairly certain they were just looking for checks. It would have made for quite an interesting audit, “Sir, why are there tire tread marks on your form 1099?” Though my solution was to move out of that… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Thanks, everyone for the advice. Just to be clear — I realize that it’s unlikely that anything bad will come of this (other than missing mail), but I feel like I should take some minimal precautions just to be safe. The idea of a credit freeze is a good one. A GRS reader has asked me to write on this subject, anyhow, so this might be a good time to research it… Somebody mentioned having mail stolen and then turn up dumped a few houses away. This has happened to us before, too, at our old house. I forgot about… Read more »

Julia
Julia
12 years ago

Oooh yeah, definitely write about doing a credit freeze. My husband did one on his account and I’ll be doing one on my account just as soon as I know I’m not co-signing a loan for a family member.

KC
KC
12 years ago

Contact Netflix and report these as stolen (I’m sure you already have). Apparently Netflix theft within the post office is not uncommon. I’m not blasting the post office as they are generally highly ethical, but there will always be some bad seeds.

Also I’ve often wondered why netflix is in a bright red envelope – seems they would want to go with a less conspicious packaging to make their items less noticable to thieves. But I’m sure the benefits of marketing with a bright color far outweigh the costs of some theft.

sandy e.
sandy e.
12 years ago

There is an excellent article in the January 2008 Reader’s Digest magazine that you could get from the library on Identify Theft. This issue also has an article entitled: Avoid These Debit Card Traps.

I have the keyed mailbox that is a cluster, which is great. The only problem is that there have been at least 5 times when a neighbor has brought me mail that the mailman put in her box!

Dividends4Life
Dividends4Life
12 years ago

That had to be a sick feeling when you realized what had happened! We have electronically automated most of our bills etc., but you make a good point about the tax documents that show up this time of the year. Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done to automate that.

I hope that that the person who ripped you off was only after the movies.

Best Wishes,
D4L

Matilda
Matilda
12 years ago

I bought a nice sized locking mailbox for my front porch. I think this would be the easiest solution.

diso
diso
12 years ago

http://www.chiasso.com/shopping/modern-outdoor/modern-outdoor-accessories.aspx

Instead of a PO Box, you could get mailbox with a sturdy keys…this is just something I came
accross lately…

Its a bit pricey, but saves you time from going
back and forth to the post office to retrieve mail….

DJ
DJ
12 years ago

I feel your concern about the possibility of stolen mail. In my neighborhood open old style mailboxes on the street are the norm. I lived with this many years but always felt a bit uneasy about it. Seems we were always needing to be cognizant when the mail arrived to hurry out and get it. Due to an incident with my wife’s mother confronting an old guy (apparently mentally stricken) going through our mailbox when she went out to pick up the mail it was finally time for me to do something. Can’t have 80+ year olds fighting in the… Read more »

Tom
Tom
12 years ago

Do you have to pay Netflix for the missing movies? What is their policy?

I’ve had mail delievered to the wrong house before. And also received my neighbor’s mail, so it could be an accident.

Toni
Toni
12 years ago

I now have a PO box after our mail was stolen 10 years ago. We still get newspapers in the mailbox but now all the financial stuff goes to the PO Box. Yes, it is a pain to have to drive many miles to get my mail, but I only have to do it weekly as I rented a large PO box. When I realized that my and my neighbors mail had been stolen, I went through my file cabinet and called everyone who could possibly have sent me anything and had them resend it to my PO box and… Read more »

Faculties
Faculties
12 years ago

I have that slot in the wall near the door, with the ledge underneath. Very handy. My house was built in 1929.

Kelly
Kelly
12 years ago

A few comments mentioned Lifelock. I am curious to read your opinion about this service. Personally, I am toying with the idea of obtaining this service. However, identity theft is a serious matter and whereas home owner’s insurance only covers a small amount, Lifelock becomes quite the consideration. I encourage you to post on it, I value your opinion. With that in mind, I have been tempted to open a Post Office box. I have been hesitant for some time, as my living situation has changed. Yet knowing my mail will always be there is a comforting thought. Please keep… Read more »

Karen
Karen
12 years ago

My mail was stolen from a secure mailbox which required a key to open located in front of the house. Similar situation — came home to find the mailbox door open, thought it was weird, but didn’t think much else about it, thought maybe the mail lady hadn’t closed it properly. Then, after a few more days passed and my first paycheck from my new job hadn’t arrived, I started to get concerned. Called the payroll department and discovered that yes, the check should have arrived. Had the company cancel the original check and issue a new one, and filed… Read more »

Leslie
Leslie
12 years ago

I lived in Atlanta when I graduated from College. My first apartment was not in a nice area of town (think gangs) but I never had any problems there (unless you count scary laundry facilities). Then I got a much better job and moved to an apartment in one of the more “upscale” suburbs of Atlanta. We had locked, centralized mailboxes. Unfortunately, that didn’t really help when there was someone in the local post office stealing mail before it even went out to be delivered. They were apparently part of a large theft ring. I had two “pre-approved” credit card… Read more »

Toni
Toni
12 years ago

I now have a PO box after our mail was stolen 10 years ago. We still get newspapers in the mailbox but now all the financial stuff goes to the PO Box. Yes, it is a pain to have to drive many miles to get my mail, but I only have to do it weekly as I rented a large PO box. When I realized that my and my neighbors mail had been stolen, I went through my file cabinet and called everyone who could possibly have sent me anything and had them resend it to my PO box and… Read more »

Schizohedron
Schizohedron
12 years ago

At my apartment complex, regular mail is delivered into locked P.O.-style boxes in the vestibule. Packages, however, are just left next to the mailboxes, and sometimes they have disappeared or been opened for their contents. Even some packages that other residents have moved into the lobby (unattended; no doorman or concierge) have been stolen by kleptomaniacal residents. (One person had 60 unopened packages in her apartment when she was finally tracked down!) So you can get sabotaged by folks inside as well as transient thieves. My solution: I have all packages delivered to my retired parents, who are home to… Read more »

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