Fraud Prevention Essentials: How to Protect Your Mail and Money from Scammers

Protecting personal and financial information becomes increasingly crucial as we navigate an era where digital and traditional communication intersect. With financial crimes becoming more sophisticated, adopting a vigilant stance to safeguard our mail—a primary channel for sensitive data is imperative. The US Postal Service (USPS) and United States Inspection Service (USPIS) are at the forefront with "Project Safe Delivery," introducing innovative security measures like anti-fishing devices and electronic mailbox locks to combat mail theft. However, these efforts are just a part of the solution. The onus is also on consumers to use effective strategies to protect their mail and finances from potential threats. This guide delves deeper into how you can take steps to prevent mail theft and offers tips on how to avoiding check washing.


Enhancing Mail Security

"Project Safe Delivery" marks a significant stride towards bolstering mail security, incorporating anti-fishing devices and electronic locks on collection boxes in vulnerable areas. These initiatives reflect a proactive approach to counteract the evolving techniques of criminals. 

Below is a list of measures that you can take to enhance your personal mailbox security.

  • Optimize Mail Deposit Times: Ensure your mail is deposited as close to the pickup times as possible, or consider handing it directly to post office staff, minimizing the window of opportunity for theft.
  • Discretion with Mailbox Flags: Utilize the mailbox flag judiciously for outgoing sensitive mail. The flag can signal to potential thieves that valuable information might be available.
  • Prompt Mail Collection: Be diligent about retrieving your mail promptly and avoid leaving it in your mailbox overnight when it's most vulnerable.
  • Leverage Informed Delivery: The USPS offers a free service, Informed Delivery, which provides email previews of your incoming mail. This innovative tool lets you anticipate deliveries and promptly identify missing items.
  • Hold Mail Service During Absences: If you plan to be away from home for a prolonged period, use the USPS Hold Mail service. This action could prevent your mailbox from becoming a target.


The Threat of Check Washing

Check washing is a deceptive and illegal practice that occurs when someone illegally takes a check with the intent to alter the information and steal money. Chemicals or solvents are used to "wash" the  existing ink on a check. The signature remains but the payee and amounts are changed.  It is estimated that check washing inflicts losses of $815 million annually in the U.S. alone.  

  • Mailbox Security: Avoid leaving checks in your mailbox, particularly if the flag is raised. A mailbox with a raised flag acts as a clear signal to thieves.
  • Secure Check Pickup: Collect new checks directly from your bank rather than having them delivered to your home, reducing the risk of them falling into the wrong hands.
  • Vigilant Bank Statement Review: Regularly scrutinize your bank statements for any discrepancies. Early detection is key to minimizing financial damage.
  • Ink Selection: When writing checks, use gel pens with black ink. The chemical composition of gel ink makes it resistant to the chemicals commonly used in check washing, offering an added layer of security. 
  • Paper Check Alternatives: Consider using other alternatives to paying by check. Use an online banking platform or download the vendors app to pay electronically or use their pay-by-phone service if available. 


Steps to Take If You Suspect Mail Theft

If you think that you've been the victim of mail theft it's important to take the following steps immediately:

  1. Notify your bank,
  2. Report the suspected loss to UPIS or call them directly at 1-877-876-2455, and
  3. Call your local police to file a report.


Combating Financial Exploitation

Financial exploitation is a multifaceted issue affecting individuals across various demographics, with older adults often being prime targets. Awareness and proactive defense strategies are essential:

  • Stay Informed: Educate yourself and your loved ones about current scams. Knowledge is a powerful tool in prevention. Visit Middlesex Federal's Alerts & Safeguards page for more information.
  • Regular Account Monitoring: Keep a close eye on your financial accounts for any signs of unauthorized activity. Establish a direct line of communication with your financial institutions to swiftly address any security concerns.
  • Check Your Credit Report: Checking your credit report can help you detect any inaccurate or incomplete information. Is there an increase in credit card applications?  Are their any fraudulent accounts in your name?  Are they past due?  Learn how you can order a free credit, visit Middlesex Federal's "Take Control, Monitor Your Credit History" page.


Securing Your Mail and Financial Future: A Collective Endeavor

The importance of securing your mail and protecting your financial information cannot be overstated. By taking the preventative measures outlined in this guide, you can significantly lower the risk of becoming a victim of mail theft and check-washing. It's essential to remain vigilant, informed, and proactive in your approach to safeguarding your personal and financial data against the sophisticated tactics employed by fraudsters. Your security starts with you—take the necessary steps to ensure it.

If you've been a victim of mail fraud, reporting it as soon as possible to the appropriate authorities is essential to help prevent further incidents and possibly recover any losses. For mail fraud, including issues like check washing or theft directly involving the mail, report mail-related crimes by visiting USPIS.

For scams and frauds that may not directly involve the mail but are related to financial matters, visit to learn more about reporting these types of issues.

By reporting these incidents, you play a crucial role in helping combat financial exploitation and protect others in the community from falling victim to similar scams.

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