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Printed mail remains safe despite letterbox thefts

Thursday, 01 December 2016
By Jake Nelson

NSW Police have warned that theft of mail from residential letterboxes fuels identity theft by international crime gangs, but industry professionals say printed mail is still safer than online.

Though it seems like petty crime, police say that thieves (or “boxers”) who steal credit cards and identity documents from suburban letterboxes are selling this information to criminals overseas, often connected to organised crime networks.

“Information from documents such as bank statements and utility bills is then used by the overseas criminals to apply for large loans in the names of their unwitting victims, thereby defrauding financial institutions,” said Detective Superintendent Arthur Katsogiannis, head of the State Crime Command Fraud and Cybercrime Squad.

Industry group Two Sides Australia says that despite the risks, printed mail remains a safer communication channel than the internet. “According to the ACCC, of the identity theft scams reported in 2015 38.8 percent of the scams were delivered via email, social media and the internet, whereas only 1.9 percent were due to direct mail. The information contained in all forms of transactional communications has the potential to be accessed by anyone, however print and physical mail continues to be the most reliable, accessible and sustainable communication channel,” said Kellie Northwood, Executive Director, TSA Limited.

According to Detective Superintendent Katsogiannis, “boxers” use a variety of methods to gain access to residential mail. “Often the street-level thieves are equipped with specially-modified tools to pry open apartment block letter boxes, robbing scores of victims at once. Others are using master keys that open dozens of letter boxes at a time.

“The low level thieves tend to keep any credit cards they find to fraudulently purchase goods for later re-sale whilst the identity documents are provided to the international identity theft operations for the larger frauds,” Katsogiannis said.

Police have partnered with Australia Post, as well as Crime Stoppers and Sydney City Council, to launch the ‘Mail Safe’ program aimed at educating residents on how to prevent mail theft.

“We do everything we can to educate people on mail safety and security. This program aims to reduce and prevent mailbox theft after delivery and requests changes to the Australian Building Standards to improve the mail security and positioning of mailboxes in high density building,” an Australia Post spokesman said.

Australia Post last week delivered leaflets to areas identified as hot spots for mail theft, detailing a number of measures people can take to protect themselves. “To reduce the risk of theft after delivery we recommend residents regularly clear their letterbox to ensure items can be fully and securely inserted into the box, and secure their letterbox with a sturdy lock,” the spokesman said.

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