What is Mail Theft?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 12 February 2020
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Mail theft is the act of one person taking, destroying, or otherwise tampering with another person’s mail for the purposes of obstruction or learning the secrets, business, and personal information of the other person. It is typically illegal in most countries, and can be an extremely serious crime in certain situations and areas that punish it accordingly. In the United States (US), for example, mail theft is said to be the most common form of white-collar crime, and is punishable under federal law by heavy fines and potential jail sentences of up to five years.

The crime of mail theft often occurs at the point of delivery, such as at a private mailbox, a shared communal mailbox as found in apartment complexes, and people’s homes, though it can occur directly from a postal vehicle or at the post office itself. In the latter situations, these crimes are often committed by someone within the employ of the post office or by someone given access by an employee. At mail delivery locations, mail theft can be committed by just about anyone, from other residents of shared mail boxes, to neighbors, or strangers who pass by and notice vulnerable mail.


Mail theft is commonly committed to obtain personal information from other people, such as Social Security numbers, credit card information, and checking account numbers and information. This information can be used to directly perform other forms of theft or may be used by a person to perform identity theft on the victim. Identity theft is the use of someone’s personal information by another person for the perpetrator to use the victim’s identity to make illegal purchases in the victim’s name.

With the increase in online marketing and purchases widely available through the Internet, identity theft has become a very lucrative field of fraud. While mail theft is not the only way to gain access to information needed to commit identity theft, it has often been used for such purposes. To avoid these types of crimes, people should take certain precautions to avoid mail theft and other people gaining access to their private information.

Law enforcement professionals suggest taking mail with sensitive information, such as bill payments or credit card applications, directly to the post office and not simply leaving it in an accessible mailbox. Similarly, publicly accessible mailboxes should be secured whenever possible, and mail should be picked up promptly after delivery. Further steps can also be taken, such as when people go on vacation they should notify the post office so their mail can be held until they return.


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Post 4

Someone stealing or forwarding your email address is worse than in letter form, I think, because it has attachments with vital info. Pictures of drivers license and credit cards that never go away because we save those vital pieces of info forever until it's destroyed by a thief.

Post 3

@Fa5t3r - The problem is not with recognizing that emails can hold very sensitive information. The problem is that email doesn't originate from a single company or place.

With the post in real life, you can point to a letter with a stamp and seal on it and know that's it's official and that it's a crime to open it when it's addressed to someone else. It's been through a dedicated and specific system.

Email could have arrived from anywhere or nowhere and email accounts are far less reliable than postal addresses. They simply aren't official enough. Which is why I'm sure it would be much easier to persecute someone for hacking into a company email account than to persecute someone for hacking into a personal account.

Post 2

@clintflint - This is why I think email should be given the same protection from mail theft as paper mail gets. I know it's got more to do with guarding national systems than with guarding personal privacy, but at the moment there is hardly any protection at all for people who are hacked and have their email stolen.

And there is all kinds of valuable information about a person in their email, just as much as there once would have been in a letter-box.

Just because it's digital, doesn't mean it's not vital.

Post 1

I read a story a long time ago about a man who was a complete loner and basically got to know his neighbors by stealing their mail and then re-delivering it late after he had read it.

I don't think anyone could commit mail theft like that these days and expect to learn much about people, because very few people actually send real mail now in anything other than an official capacity.

I suppose you could still learn general facts about someone, like their age or job, but you wouldn't learn about whatever they last wrote to their mother, because that would go in an email.

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