Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Beware of Mail Theft at Tax Time

Tax season may not be the favorite time of year for most Americans, but there is one group of people that looks forward to it annually -- mail thieves.

Mail theft is a major issue during tax season, since thieves know that personal information delivered to your mailbox may be ripe for the taking. Credit card applications are a jackpot for identity thieves year-round, but at tax time their focus turns to W-2s. W-2s include social security numbers, birth dates, and salaries, which credit card applications do not.

The information contained in a W-2 offers fraudsters the chance to open credit card, bank or other accounts with the victim's data, as well as to make purchases and even apply for a job. Separately, postal inspectors warn that a stolen W-2 can be used by a thief to file for an advance loan off a tax return.

And, even with some companies offering their employees electronic W-2 forms, the danger remains that personal information stolen from somewhere else can be used to create a fake W-2 under the victim's name.

There are some steps people can take to avoid having their tax information stolen. The primary defense is to simply check the mail each day as soon after it gets delivered as possible. That leaves thieves with little time to snatch mail that contains personal information. In fact, this is a wise strategy any time during the year when you are expecting the delivery of credit cards, checks, or similar items.

Meanwhile, if you plan to be on vacation or away from home for a considerable amount of time, consider placing a hold on your mail or renting a post office box. You could also ask a trusted friend or neighbor to pick up and hold your mail for you.

Also, let the issuer know as soon as possible if you do not receive your W-2, credit card mailings, or other valuable mail. And, contact your local postmaster or nearest postal inspector if you believe your mail was stolen. Should you move, be sure to update the post office and anyone you do business with.

If you want to stop banks from mailing credit card applications year round, protect yourself by contacting the Direct Marketing Association. By visiting, you can compare numerous credit card offers yourself and apply safely online instead of simply responding to applications you may have received in the mail.

Even though over 400,000 people fall victim to mail theft each year, by taking action you can help avoid joining that group.

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