Household mailboxes remain gold mines for thieves, even though few people still get their Social Security checks through the mail, according to security experts.

The reason: Thieves are looking for papers that allow them to steal a person’s identity, as well as their money.

Bank statements and income tax and medical records with Social Security numbers are among the documents crooks are pilfering from people’s mailboxes, said former FBI agent Bill Kowalski.

Social Security checks also remain a target, but the percentage of people opting for mail delivery of the payments rather than direct deposit has dropped from coming 24 percent to 2 percent, he said. Other types of payments traditionally paid through the mail have also moved to direct deposit, he noted.

Kowalski, director of operations for Rehmann Corporate Investigative Services in Troy, Mich., said to protect against this kind of theft, every home use a paper shredder to destroy important documents before they’re put in the trash.

To show he practices what he preaches, the security consultant said he gave his wife a larger shredder for Christmas.

When fraudsters get personal information about a senior from the mails or elsewhere, it is often simple for them to go online, pretend they are the victim and redirect the payments to their own bank accounts, he said.

Kowalski said to prevent this from happening, a client should ask Social Security to allow changes to be made only when he or she makes a visit to one of the agency’s offices. (More information on how to do this is available at

Doug Johnson, vice president of risk management policy with the American Bankers Association, said he has reduced his mailbox risk by getting all bills and other materials with information sent electronically.

Fridays are usually when identity thieves are most busy because bank and business staffs aren’t likely to find out about the fraud until the following Monday, Johnson said.

Advisors should also warn clients not flag their mailboxes when they have bill payments ready for delivery because it’s something thieves look for.

“That is a vulnerability crooks looks for,” he said.

Johnson and Kowalski offered several tips on how to thwart identity thieves:

• Make sure mailbox locks work properly, particularly in apartment buildings.

• If you expect to be away when a payment is to be delivered, ask a trusted friend get the mail or have it placed on hold at the post office.

• Inform authorities if you see someone following a carrier, attempting to break into a postal vehicle or tampering with mail.

• Promptly call banks, credit card companies, government agencies and other senders if their important mail fails to arrive on schedule.

• Consider having blank checks mailed to your bank branch for pickup.