MailTheft and its Evil Twin, Identity Theft, are Exploding Nationwide

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Mail theft and its evil twin, identity theft, are exploding nationwide, but a new generation of secure, tamper-proof mailboxes is coming to the rescue in a new era of Home Security

Identity theft - where thieves appropriate a victim’s personal information, such as name and credit card number, to run up bills or open new accounts - has been called the country’s fastest growing form of crime. Ten million Americans fell victim to it, at a cost of $5 billion to them and $48 billion to businesses in the last year, according to a FTC study released in Sept. 2003.

“People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years -- and their hard-earned money -- cleaning up the mess the thieves have made of their good name and credit record,” states the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) publication ID Theft: What’s It All About? “Some victims have lost job opportunities, been refused loans for education, housing or cars, or even been arrested for crimes they didn’t commit.”

Because mailboxes contain a wealth of personal data such as checks, statements, and pre-approved credit offers, they are prime targets of thieves looking to perpetrate identity theft and credit card fraud. The typical aluminum curbside mailbox, which one in three Americans still use, is unlocked and completely vulnerable, while even locked mailboxes are susceptible if fingers can reach through the mail slot.

Recently, citizens in the town of Modesto, Cal. found themselves on the front lines in the fight against mail and identity theft. Steve and Jennifer Haglund, husband and wife ranchers and livestock auction owners in Modesto, had their mail stolen not once but twice, in a string of mail thefts that plagued the town.

“The first time, the thieves opened my neighbor’s mail and dumped what they didn’t want into my mailbox,” says Jennifer Haglund. “My mail was missing, and I didn’t know what was taken. We had to wait to see what the fallout would be.” Her fears were confirmed after the second theft, when her credit card company called to ask if they had been cashing pre-printed, balance transfer checks. “We had not, and resolving the issue took weeks,” says Haglund.

“Once your personal info gets out, it may be impossible to make it private again. In the hands of thieves, your personal info can become like a cancer, devouring your life,”says Donna Ellman, a Modesto-area resident, who along with her husband, had mail stolen from her mailbox. “It’s better to prevent mail and identity theft, rather than respond to its effects.”

Responding to the spate of mail thefts in its hometown, Modesto, Cal.-based Energy Technology Laboratories (ETL) visit, a firm specializing in technology innovation, developed the Secure Mail Vault, the first high security curbside mailbox designed from the ground up to protect against mail theft.

While other products exist to deter mail theft, none yet address the standard mailbox’s vulnerabilities as comprehensively as this one.

“Mail theft and identity theft go hand-in-hand,” explains Ray Engel, CEO of ETL. “Out of necessity, the Secure Mail Vault was created to stop both mail theft, as well as identity theft from that source.”

Certified by the US Postal Service, the Secure Mail Vault is a pole-mounted unit made of thick, 14-gauge steel; thus, the vault stays put and cannot be hauled away by thieves, as traditional mailboxes can.

Owners open a magnetically sealed outer door to reveal a heavy duty, locked inner door - the “vault” - secured with two dead bolts. To prevent theft, a curved mail slot on top allows mail to enter but none to exit, except through the vault. The vault opens when a user-chosen secret code is punched into an electronic keypad.

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Gina Guthrie