Ask Washington State Attorney General

Rob McKenna on Mail Theft: Why You Should Use a Secured Mailbox and a Shredder

This site allows consumers to ask questions of the Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna. All of us here at the Mail Boss found one Q & A particularly relevant and informative, and have included it below.

Consumer: I mailed a credit card bill a few weeks ago. Someone apparently stole it from my mailbox, then made several major purchases with my credit card and tapped my checking account. What can I do to prevent this from happening again?

Attorney General Rob McKenna: I am sorry this happened to you. Mail theft used to be relatively uncommon. People would simply place their outgoing mail in the mailbox, lift the red flag, and think nothing of it. Today, something as simple as mailing a check or taking out the garbage can result in a financial nightmare.

Stealing mail ranked fifth among the most common methods for perpetrating identity fraud in a 2005 study by the Better Business Bureau and Javelin Strategy & Research. The most widespread methods involve a thief stealing a wallet or checkbook. The report was issued as an update to the Federal Trade Commission’s 2003 Identity Theft Survey Report.

Researchers found that nearly 3 out of 4 consumers surveyed deposit mail at a secured box. That’s a smart policy that I strongly recommend.

But just 66 percent of consumers said they shred documents before discarding them. Unfortunately, rifling through trash cans for personal information is another common tactic used by identity thieves. You are taking a terrible risk if you don’t shred sensitive material.

As Attorney General, I am extremely concerned about protecting consumers and businesses from identity theft. My office is sponsoring the state’s first Identity Theft Summit on Nov. 2 in SeaTac to bring together leaders from law enforcement, the private sector, and victim advocacy groups to help find solutions to this growing problem. You can find out more about our efforts by writing to

Here are some tips to protect yourself from identity theft:

  • Consider purchasing a locking mailbox. In any event, never leave outgoing mail in an unsecured mailbox; take it to a collection box or post office instead.
  • Promptly remove delivered mail. If you plan to be away, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold.
  • Invest in a shredder, preferably one that “cross cuts” (slices in two directions), and destroy all sensitive information – charge receipts, insurance forms, physician bills, bank and credit card statements, checks, credit offers. Also destroy all junk mail and paperwork that include your name, address, phone number, e-mail address or signature. A comprehensive list of items to shred can be found online.
  • If your shredder can’t handle plastic, cut up expired credit and ID cards with a scissors before discarding them.
  • Remove your name from mailing lists for “pre-approved” credit cards. Call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688) or make a request online.
  • Contact the Direct Marketing Association, a trade group of telephone and mail marketers, to remove your name from national contact lists. Write to Mail Preference Service, PO Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008 or make a request online. There’s a $5 fee for making your request online, but no charge for registering by mail.

Finally, always report mail theft or an unauthorized change of address immediately to your local postmaster or nearest postal inspector, or file a complaint online. By analyzing information collected from the form, postal inspectors may determine whether your problem is isolated or part of a larger mail theft operation in your neighborhood – and it may help inspectors locate and apprehend the thieves.

For more information about identity theft:

Attorney General’s Office – 1-800-551-4636.
Federal Trade Commission – 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338).


  1. Jenny DB on October 23, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    @Jk: Solus sounds a lot like LifeLock. I did a review of it here:

    What are the significant differences between LifeLock and SOLUS?

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