One of the scariest things that can happen to you is identity theft. Annoying is another word that comes to mind when thinking about it; besides the potential for people to steal your money, once you're a victim you have to change all of your personal information. It's a reality that more people face now than ever before. We think it can’t happen to us but we really shouldn't be that naive anymore.
According to a Canada Post Security and Investigation Services document, "Two major credit bureaus, Equifax and Trans Union, indicate that they each receive approximately 1,400 to 1,800 Canadian identity theft complaints every month."
Identity theft is the fraudulent acquisition and use of a person’s private identifying information, usually for financial gain. There are different ways your identity can be stolen but mail fraud is becoming a more common way for thieves to do it in Canada. Mail fraud is a crime in which the perpetrator develops a scheme using the mail to defraud another of money or property.
Recently, identity theft and mail fraud stories have been making the news in Canada. Since installing community mailboxes in British Columbia, Vancouver has become a hot-spot for both crimes. That’s troubling news considering that Canada Post has just begun rolling out it’s 5-year plan to phase out home delivery and offer only community mailbox delivery to all of Canada.
Community mailboxes are large hubs that collect mail for neighbourhoods in residential locations. Each resident has a key to their section and are then expected to commute to retrieve their mail each day. There are many reasons that Canadians are not happy about Canada Post’s plan to increase community mailboxes to cover 9-million addresses over 5-years but we’ll talk about that in a future blog post. Today, we’ll focus on why community mailboxes are causing stress for residents because they're helping to increase the number of stolen identities reported in Canada.
With community mailboxes popping up in British Columbia the crime rate for mail theft and mailbox destruction has increased. In fact, Langley, B.C. is known as the mail theft capital of Canada. There were more than 250 community mailbox break-ins within 5-months in 2014. One resident has experienced mail-theft three times since Christmas, 2013. When asked about it he had this to say, "The fact it keeps happening means whoever is doing it is doing it quite easily.” He continued with, “I’m frustrated. You can’t trust that your mail is going to be safe. You don’t even know what’s getting stolen. I can’t understand why they would put a mailbox down a dead-end street in the dark."
Some people break into community mailboxes for the thrill of being destructive, not that we think it’s a thrill but it is for some people, apparently. Whereas others do it with a purpose- stealing mail to collect personal information from sensitive documents. These documents can be any type of correspondence from a bank, credit card statements, government issued documents including tax information, social insurance numbers (which are featured on some government material).
Once the thieves get their hands on a few different items with personal and private information they can steal your identity. There are countless horror stories on the internet showcasing identity theft situations. Bank accounts are drained, credit cards are maxed, and expensive items, like vehicles, are financed. In some of these cases the people who had their identities stolen were on the hook for many of the charges because they couldn't prove what had happened. This is a terrifying realty for far-too-many people in Canada. One resident of Langley, B.C. has had a community mailbox for ten years. She's been a victim of mail theft three times and is currently involved in an RCMP investigation because her identity was stolen. There was a credit card account opened in Toronto with her identity, which was then used to the tune of $8,000 in fraudulent charges. When asked about mail theft she said she'd much rather have a mail slot on her door.
Community mailboxes have been called the ‘jackpot’ for mail-thieves. With all the mail for a neighbourhood stored in one area stealing becomes so much easier. It’s not just efficient for mail delivery folks, it’s increasing productivity for the thieves as well. According to victims of mail theft, Canada Post doesn't inform their customers when a community mailbox is broken-into. Instead, it's usually the residents who inform Canada Post.
Canada Post has taken measures to prevent mail theft with their community mailboxes but their efforts seem minimal compared to the theft. Residents are not impressed, "Our feeling is upsetting and unsafe. We feel angered, we don't know what to do," says one Calgary resident who recently found her community mailbox door wide-open twice in one day. Canada Post had said, in this particular situation, that they were not going to notify residents of the incident, "Because all the mail appeared to be intact and there was no apparent vandalism to the box."
A recent poll, in connection with a Global News story, asked, "Are you worried about security at community mailboxes? The results:
We've been thinking about mail security since we came up with the idea for Got-it Box. It’s important for people to feel safe. When people feel violated because their mail delivery system isn’t protecting their personal information it becomes a concern for many citizens. With door-to-door mail delivery it's the responsibility of the citizens to provide a mailbox and then retrieve their mail in a timely fashion. It's less likely for thieves to travel door-to-door to steal mail for fear of being caught by many stay-at-home residents. Community mailboxes are remotely located so as not to disturb properties therefore they’re easy targets for theft in dimly-lit areas with minimal security. A thief’s dream scenario!
A group of postal workers got together and created a pamphlet outlining why they think community mailboxes (referred to as CBMs) are not going to benefit residents. This is just one of the points they outline, but we thought it was an important one to mention:
"CMBs are not as secure as claimed. CMBs are easy to break into, and provide a great "one-stop" location for criminals engaging in mail theft. There have been instances of entire CMB units being stolen. Because of the inconvenience of CMBs, mail is left in CMBs longer than home mailboxes, also providing greater opportunity for theft."
Once a community mailbox is tampered with the mail can be stolen, damaged, or subject to any type of weather. One resident reported that after she notified Canada Post that a community mailbox was hanging open she was told it would be fixed in 2-hours. She then said that just 6-hours after the community mailbox was fixed it was hanging open again.
Mail thieves steal more than letters; we can't have a blog post about mail theft and not mention porch pirates. The holiday season is just around the corner which means that mail delivery and package delivery will definitely increase. Mail thieves and porch pirates know this to be true as well, so stolen mail and packages will also increase, unfortunately.
To stop mail thieves and porch pirates use a Got-it Box. Residents have the option to keep their mail locked up at home, not in an area chosen by the postal service. According to postal workers, residents who have mailboxes at their homes collect mail on a daily basis and those who use community mailboxes collect less often because they find it inconvenient to make the commute. Got-it Box keeps things secure for not only the residents but also the delivery company. Once items are delivered to a Got-it Box they are locked up, on the property, until they are retrieved.
If you'd like to contact Canada Post to talk about community mailboxes and/or your concerns with identity theft, see their contact us page.