Holiday happenings

How to have unhappy holidays - Tips from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to keep your mail safe this season

By Andrea Avery

featured image for story

The holiday season is a time when we make extra effort to show our appreciation for those we cherish and love. This is even more true when we don’t have the opportunity to share in the festivities with them. One thing the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized is the importance of staying connected to our loved ones – be it virtually or through small tokens of appreciation. This can come in many different forms: a card expressing how much you care about someone, a gift during a milestone you were not able to be present for, or a care package for someone you haven’t seen in a long time. As a gift giver, you wait excitedly for the person to be surprised with a package or card you sent them. As a gift recipient, you cannot wait to receive the package or card and to experience the joy of opening it to see what’s inside.

However, because of this joy and excitement, you’ve forgotten there are others who are also waiting for mail and packages to be delivered to your home while you’re not there or have left them unattended – mail thieves. They are just as excited to see what was sent your way and to have the opportunity to steal the joy of the holiday season away from you.

The United States Postal Service works hard to ensure you get your mail and packages intact and on time all throughout the year, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service wants to ensure your mail is kept away from criminals. The U.S Postal Inspection Service is the law enforcement and security branch of the Postal Service. Postal Inspectors are criminal investigators who are mandated by law to protect your mail, the postal employees who process and deliver your mail, and the customers who receive that mail.

Infographic displaying summarized version of below listed content.

Below are some common mistakes people make when mailing goods that delight the bad guys and can leave you and your loved ones with unnecessary headaches:

  1. Send Cash. Cash is untraceable and easy to steal, creating a nice payday for thieves. Don’t send cash, gift cards or anything valuable uninsured. Instead, send a money order or a check through the mail. You can have it insured and track it through the Postal Service to know when it arrives.
  2. Cause a Fire. Mailing toys with batteries, especially lithium batteries, can cause a fire or explosion in the mail. If you’re buying a gift or a toy that needs batteries, it’s great to have them included, but make sure the batteries are mailable and properly packaged before wrapping the gift up!
  3. Turn a Blind Eye. Help us keep our letter carriers safe and secure. The large volume of mail and packages our postal employees carry makes them tempting targets for thieves. If you see something suspicious or someone following your carrier, call the police immediately.
  4. Let Your Mail Pile Up. A visible pile of mail sitting in your mailbox or on your front porch is an invitation to thieves. If you aren’t going to be home, go to usps.com to sign up for USPS Hold Mail service or to customize your delivery. Going out of town? Hold your mail at your local Post Office location. Go online to USPS.com and take advantage of the USPS Hold Mail service.
  5. Have Mail Delivered When No One is Home. Mail thieves love to take advantage of houses where there is no one home and packages are sitting on the front porches of their home. If you know the recipient of the package will not be at home, you can choose the Hold for Pickup option when shipping the package. The recipient can collect the package at their local Post Office upon return.
  6. Ignore Your Doors. If you aren’t watching and monitoring your doors, you can be sure the thieves are. Monitor your front door. If you have a camera system, ensure it is aimed and focused on capturing activity at your front door or mailbox. If you catch mail thieves in the act of stealing mail, save the video and contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
  7. Click the Link. Scammers send bogus delivery emails or texts trying to get your information. Don’t fall for it. Don’t click the link on any unsolicited emails or texts about package delivery attempts. Forward it to SPAM@uspis.gov and delete the email and/or text.
  8. Allow Crime to Happen. If you are a victim of a mail crime, report it. Call 877-876-2455 or go to uspis.gov/report. If you don’t, you’ll be allowing criminals to continue with their crime spree.
  9. Don’t Take Advantage of Postal products. If you’re not going to be home, you can customize the delivery of your online merchandise by providing alternate delivery instructions online. Visit USPS.com, enter the tracking number, and select USPS Delivery Instructions and authorize the carrier to leave the merchandise at a specific location at your residence, with a neighbor, or to your office.
  10. Get Arrested. Imagine the damage and the danger it can cause if illegal fireworks are accidently set off while being processes through the mail! The United States Postal Service has a ban on mailing most fireworks and all explosives. Sending fireworks through the mail is illegal and could lead to arrest and federal penalties.
  11. Get Scammed. Fraud is always a problem, but during the holidays, fraudsters take advantage of your giving spirit. Scammers use bogus charities and underhanded tactics to fraudulently take money from you and away from legitimate charities. Don’t ever feel pressured to give money on the spot. Before you donate, check out the charity and look carefully at the name– some phony charities have names closely resembling legitimate ones. If you decide to donate, make a check payable to the organization and not to an individual.
  12. Get involved in a pyramid scheme. Be wary of the “Secret Sister” Gift Exchange, which promises participants 36 gifts in exchange for one. It’s similar to a chain letter or even a pyramid scheme. Here’s what you should do when someone promises you a bounty of gifts by mail, email, or social media:
    • Ignore it. Pyramid schemes and their promise of big returns are illegal.
    • Report social media posts to protect others.
    • Never give your personal information to strangers. This will open you up to identity theft and other scams.

For more great tips you can use not just during the holidays, but all year long, visit our website at: uspis.gov.

USPS Postmaster van illustration.