Unhappy holidays and how to avoid them – Tips from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to keep your mail safe this season
By Andrea Avery
Picture your house sitting peacefully on a quiet December night. The holiday lights in the neighborhood have all gone dark for the evening. You’re across the country visiting family, sipping eggnog at a festive get-together, in full holiday relaxation mode because you’ve sent out all your gifts. You also mailed a donation to a charity that helps hurricane relief victims. All is right with the world until…everything goes wrong. A thief sneaks up to your porch while you’re away and steals the homemade fudge your dad sent and the holiday cards from your college friends. You get a text from your bank about a suspicious transaction on your account. Turns out that charity you donated to is a fake. Your niece and nephew never got that $100 bill you sent each of them. And the batteries you packaged with the new toys you sent your godchild caused a fire and you might have to pay a penalty.
This is how quickly unhappy holidays can happen. But there is hope! The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement and security branch of the Postal Service, is here to help you avoid the misery and keep your mail and your bank accounts safe. (And your holiday candy free from sticky fingers.)
Below are some common mistakes people make during the holiday season. These mistakes lead to a lot of frustration for you and pure delight for the bad guys.
- Get swindled. Don’t do your homework. Scammers use bogus charities and underhanded tactics to fraudulently take money from you and away from legitimate charities. Before you donate, check out the charity and look carefully at the name —– some phony charities have names closely resembling legitimate ones. Be sure to make your check payable to the organization and not to an individual. And don’t let them pressure you to give money on the spot.
- Advertise your vacation. Let your mail pile up. A visible pile of delivered mail and packages in front of your home is an invitation for the bad guys to help themselves. If you will be out of town or away for an extended period, have your mail held at your local Post Office. Use the HOLD MAIL feature on the USPS.com website or choose the HOLD FOR PICKUP option when shipping. That allows the recipient to collect the package at their local Post Office when they get back home.
- Give away cash. Be cavalier with cash. Cash is untraceable. It’s easy to steal, making it a tempting target for thieves. Send money another way, such as with a check or USPS money order. If you decide to mail other valuables, make sure they are insured. You can track a letter or package through the Postal Service and know when it arrives.
- Start a fire. Remain ignorant of mailing requirements. Sending hazardous items can spark a fire in the mail system or cause someone harm. Certain items and substances should never be mailed. Check to see if your items are prohibited or restricted before going to your local Post Office location or by consulting Shipping Restrictions - What Can You Send in the Mail? | USPS, on usps.com.
- Neighborhood (un)watch. Adopt a none-of-my-business attitude. Large volumes of mail and packages make postal employees tempting targets for crooks. Keep an eye out for the safety of your mail carriers. The holidays will quickly become unhappy if you see your carrier being robbed, especially if you don’t say something. If you see something suspicious or someone following your carrier, call the police immediately.
- Ignore your doors. If you don’t keep an eye on your door and porch, you can be sure the bad guys will. When no one is watching, it is easier for thieves to steal from the porch or even enter your house. If you have a camera system, make sure it’s focused on capturing activity at your front door or mailbox. If you catch mail thieves in the act, save the video and contact the Inspection Service at 1-877-876-2455.
- Keep secrets. When you do not report a mail theft or fraud, the crook gets away with a crime. Mail crimes are serious, and reporting it is as easy as a phone call. Don’t keep it a secret. Call 1-877-876-2455. You can also report mail crime by visiting Report Mail Fraud & Postal Fraud | USPIS.
- Mess with the mail. If you’re thinking about tampering with or stealing someone’s mail and making their holiday unhappy, don’t. Theft of mail is a federal crime and could land you in jail. Don’t steal and everyone can have a happy holiday.
For more great tips you can use not just during the holidays, but all year long, visit our website at uspis.gov.