In an excerpt from Doug Shadel's new book %20" target="_blank">Outsmarting the Scam Artists, a former identity thief named Sara describes in an interview how drug addicts pilfer personal data via the mailbox:
“A mail-boxer is a drug addict we send out to steal mail from private mailboxes in residential communities.
"I really don’t even want to say this because it’s so bad, but . . . we targeted senior citizens. The best place to send a mail-boxer to is that place with the big sign on it that says ‘retirement community—55 and older.’ That’s going to be your best hit by far.
"You already know first of all that everybody in there owns their own home because there are no rentals in there. Secondly, they are over 55 so they probably have a pretty good history with their credit.
"I would say that 80 percent of the profiles I used were senior citizens—if not senior citizens, then someone over the age of 45. Anybody younger than that, it was usually just a waste of our time. It’s horrible but it’s really true—they are the easiest victims out there.
"They have better credit, they have longer history at a job, they are on a pension plan, they have had the same bank forever, they are just plain and simple the best profile that’s out there. Plus, they are the most trusting. They are the least likely to sit at home and think, ‘Who could steal from me today?’
“So we sent mail-boxers out to all the retirement communities first. I would say we did it in two weeks. And then from there, we would go to what looked like the wealthier communities, but usually that was senior citizens also. If they weren’t living in the retirement community, they were living in the wealthy community.”
Does the gate around these communities slow the mail-boxer down?
“The fact that a lot of these communities are gated, meaning they have a four-foot wall surrounding the houses, is not going to stop a mail-boxer. Because what is on the other side of that gate is so attractive: Your mailbox, usually together with a bunch of other mailboxes that all open with a single key.
"So the mail-boxer is jumping over a four- or eight-foot fence and they go right to your mailbox. They’ve got their bag, they are filling it up, they are throwing it over to the person waiting on the other side and they are jumping back over—the fence is nothing in terms of stopping these guys.
"And because all the mailboxes are there in one place, it’s 10 minutes at the most. If you are there more than 10 minutes, you are leaving, you’re not staying.”
What is the easiest mailbox to steal from?
"The easiest mailbox to steal from of course is the old fashioned one that doesn’t have a lock—you just open it right up and take mail out of it.
"The ones that people want to steal the most from are either in apartment complexes or suburban communities where access to the mail is from the back. There is a group of them—20 or 30 mailboxes in one spot that you can put a key into the back of, open, and all the mail falls out. That’s definitely one of the best ones to get to.
"The best time to do mail boxing was between 12:30 AM and 1:30 AM. That was when the cops switched shifts and everyone else was asleep. Nobody was coming home from shift work—it was already too late—nobody was out walking their dog or anything.
“The mail-boxer is carrying those big green yard waste bags—it’s got to be something cheap because you have to remember these guys don’t have a lot of money, and I don’t want to give them a lot of money because if I do, they will go get high with it instead of raiding mailboxes. They are all drug addicts.”
Is it a good idea to put the red flag up when you have outgoing mail?
“No, putting the red flag up is not a very good idea. I don’t recommend that you put your outgoing mail in your mailbox and put the red flag up—that’s just calling someone over to steal it. Thank you very much for telling us that you’ve got some money in your mailbox.
“Another thing to look for is if you go to the mailbox in the morning and there is mail all over the ground that was not because the mailman was clumsy. It’s because your mail-boxer was clumsy.”
Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc., www.wiley.com , from Outsmarting the Scam Artists: How to Protect Yourself From the Most Clever Cons by Doug Shadel (c) 2012 by AARP.
Now see 6 ways to protect against identity theft >
More From Business Insider