Residents of apartment blocks and flats are being warned that they are a target for criminals stealing mail from letter boxes, to commit card fraud and ID theft. The intelligence comes from Financial Fraud Action UK’s (FFA) fraud intelligence bureau, which has reported a spike in cases over recent weeks. Known by its technical name, ‘mail non-receipt’ fraud has increased 10 per cent to £5m, in the first half of 2014.
The scam involves criminals gaining access to blocks of flats and stealing mail from communal letter boxes which can be broken, unlocked or sometimes never used at all, as mail is simply placed at the entrance door. The criminals commit different frauds depending on the nature of the personal information they have managed to steal. Documents and mail containing personal and financial information are particularly valuable to fraudsters and those containing debit and credit cards can be used to fraudulently buy high-end goods or withdraw cash. Cheque books can also be stolen and used to make fraudulent transactions.
Even when fraudsters fail to get their hands on documents containing financial information, there is still a treasure trove of information they can exploit. Some may steal utility bills that are then used to commit ID theft or to make bogus loan claims. Even the most basic of personal data can be used – for instance phone scammers who impersonate the police or bank are able to make their calls more convincing by using the information gleaned from stolen documents.
FFA UK is providing the following advice to consumers to avoid falling victim to this crime:
• Make sure your letterbox, or the place where your mail is left for you, is secure and cannot be accessed by anyone else. Report any damage to your landlord or letting agent immediately.
• Don’t leave mail uncollected for long periods of time – pick it up as regularly as possible.
• If you are changing your address make sure you tell your bank, card issuer and other
important organisations that you deal with immediately.
• If you are not going to be able to pick up your mail for a few days, ensure that someone
trustworthy can collect it instead, or consider using a mail collection service.
• Know the dates you are due to receive bills and bank statements, and where possible receive
these documents electronically.
• If your bank offers the option, consider picking up new cards or chequebooks in person.
• On moving house, use a mail redirection service.
• If you suspect your mail has been stolen, contact the sender immediately and Royal Mail.
Banks have measures to minimise the risk of key documents being intercepted, by for example using unmarked letters or packaging envelopes so that it is not obvious a card is inside. Banks work with the Royal Mail to identify problem hotspots, so they can deploy different strategies for sending out cards.
Katy Worobec, Director of Financial Fraud Action UK, said: “Letters and packages can be a key source of information for criminals aiming to defraud you, so make sure your mail collection points are as secure as they can be. Documents containing personal or financial information are of particular value to fraudsters, so keep a special look out if you’re expecting to receive something important. If you move house or flat, make a point of changing your address details as soon as possible with your bank, and other important organisations, to ensure sensitive mail doesn’t fall in to the wrong hands.”
The FFA suggests that areas affected by mail theft for the purposes of fraud are Manchester, Twickenham, Harrow and Bromley.