Can Your Identity Be Stolen Through Junk Mail?

Junk mail in mailbox
••• ideabug/iStock

Much of your paper mail—including junk mail—puts you at great risk of identity theft.

Criminals can steal account and personal information from any mail you receive or send by taking it directly from private or public mailboxes or dumpster diving after you throw it away. Using this information, they can steal money, open new accounts in your name, and more.

Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself.

Types of Mail That Put You At Risk

Here is a list of the types of mail, junk or not, that can put you at risk:

  • Financial Documents: Anything that you get in the mail from a financial institution can technically be used by someone wanting to steal your identity. You should keep bank and credit card statements for your records, but usually only for three years. Keep necessary statements in a safe or locked file cabinet, and shred anything you don't keep.

Also shred checks and printed online purchase orders that have any billing or bank account information.

  • Personal Documents: Shred any document with personal information on it such as your birthday, Social Security Number, phone numbers, full name, or driver’s license number. You should also shred employment-related mail and mail from the IRS.
  • Account Documents: Additionally, you should be shredding any documents that have account information on them as long as you no longer need them. These include usernames, account numbers, and passwords. Real estate documents, credit card statements, utility bills, and information about rentals or vacation properties also fall into this category.
  • Junk Documents: You probably don’t think about it, but junk mail can be especially dangerous. Most people don’t realize that most junk mail has a barcode that might contain identifying information. These junk documents include mail from credit card companies, organizations such as AARP, or from insurance companies. Even mail order catalog inserts and order forms often have your name and address and need to be shredded.
  • School or Child-Related Documents: Make sure that you are shredding any mail related to your children, their medical information, or school information. This includes things such as school applications, report cards, or even school field trip permission forms.
  • Business Related Documents: You may be a small business or are participating in the “gig” economy and might have sensitive documents on clients or different jobs or tasks. If the docs were to fall in the wrong hands because you tossed them, they could be considered a data breach. Keep them in a secure location or shred them.

A good rule of thumb to follow is if you need an item for tax or business purposes, then be sure to keep it in a secure, locked location. Otherwise, it's best to shred it and discard it.

Protecting Yourself and Your Mail From Identity Thieves

The best way to protect yourself from mail identity theft is to use a professional ID theft protection service, but there are also some simple steps you can take. These include:

  • Getting a locked mailbox for your home
  • Mailing items directly from the local post office
  • Shredding unwanted documents containing any personal information before discarding them
  • Monitoring your financial statements each day for suspicious charges
  • Reviewing your credit report at least once a year

There are also some other steps you can take to decrease your risk by lessening the amount of unwanted mail you receive.

Stop Receiving Pre-Approved Offers

One of the first things you should do after reading this is to go to the website, OptOutPrescreen.com and sign up. This will ensure that you are not sent any prescreened or pre-approved financial offers.

The site is created by the major credit card bureaus and allows you to opt-out from receiving these offers for either five years, or on a permanent basis. At any time, you can opt back in.

If you choose the five-year option, you will have the option of getting offers again in the future without having to go through the steps of opting back in.

It usually takes about five business days for a request to go through. You might still continue to get offers over the next couple of weeks, but those are coming from companies that had previously accessed your information. After that, you should not receive any more for that 5-year time frame.

If you want to take the old-fashioned route, you can also opt out by dialing 1-888-5-OPTOUT.

Stop Receiving Marketing Offers in the Mail

When you take the steps to opt out of offers on OptOutPrescreen.com, you will get off the list for financial pre-approved offers. However, it will not get you off the list of other marketing communications that are often sent through the mail. There is no way to eliminate all junk mail, but you can definitely decrease the amount by contacting the Direct Marketing Association, or the DMA.

The DMA works directly with the major marketers out there, and they catalog companies in order to establish the best ways to market to consumers. They manage a service called DMAchoice, which allows consumers to determine the types of communication they want to get and they types they don’t.

You can register online at DMAchoice.org for a fee of $2 for 10 years.

Once you have made the choice to opt out, and you have submitted your request, you will immediately be off the list for DMA marketers. In most cases, it will take from 30 to 90 days for people to stop getting mail from members of the DMA. This is simply because, many times, mail campaigns are planned weeks in advance.

Keep in mind that a DMA opt-out won’t eliminate 100% of your junk mail, but you will definitely see a big drop in the amount of mail that you receive.

Article Sources

  1. Center for Identity Management and Information Protection. "Identity Crimes." Accessed Jan. 26, 2020.

  2. Federal Trade Commission. "A Pack Rat’s Guide to Shredding." Jan. 26, 2020.

  3. United States Postal Service. "Publication 280—Identity Theft, Safeguard Your Personal Information." Accessed Jan. 26, 2020.

  4. OptOutPrescreen.com. "Frequently Asked Questions." Accessed Jan. 26, 2020.

  5. DMAchoice.org. "About DMAchoice." Accessed Jan. 26, 2020.

  6. DMAchoice. "FAQs." Accessed Jan. 26, 2020.