In keeping up with the times, the United States Postal Service launched a digital service called Informed Delivery by USPS that lets you see what’s coming in the mail before it actually arrives in your mailbox. So far, over 6 million users have signed up for the service, among them scammers who use it to spy on and steal your mail.
Last week, the U.S. Secret Service released an internal alert that criminals were using the Informed Delivery program for identity theft and credit card fraud, referencing a recent incident in Michigan, where seven people were arrested after running up nearly $400,000 in fraudulent credit card charges.
What is Informed Delivery by USPS?
Informed Delivery by USPS sends you images of your letter-sized mail the morning of the day it will be delivered, so you know what to expect in the coming days. In theory, the service could help you know when a credit card or paycheck has shipped or help frequent travelers keep tabs on their important incoming mail, but users have reported that more often than not, they just get pictures of all the junk mail they wind up throwing out every week.
While you won't receive images of anything bigger than a standard letter, Informed Delivery also allows you to track all of your other expected packages, schedule redeliveries or leave delivery instructions for the postal carrier (if, say, you won't be home when a package arrives). For the most part, these services aren't anything new—USPS has simply developed a more convenient way to manage all of your package tracking and delivery requests in one place. But the service has also opened up consumers to potential mail fraud.
How are scammers manipulating Informed Delivery?
The fraudsters in the Michigan case set up Informed Delivery accounts in other people's names, opened new credit card accounts under those names, then tracked and stole the cards before the true account holders ever even knew they existed.
While the incident is a classic example of your run-of-the-mill identity theft and credit card fraud, criminals have gotten creative by using this USPS service to conveniently carry out this type of criminal activity. And after several high-profile data breaches over the past two years, including last month's Healthcare.gov breach, people are more at risk than they realize.
The USPS will no doubt take steps to improve the security of this program, but if the long lines at your local post office are any indication of the speed with which the federal agency will move to address this issue, your best bet is to proactively protect yourself by setting up your own Informed Delivery account before anybody else has the chance to.