CHICAGO (CBS) — You may have heard this – “Don’t touch your mail, because it’s covered with COVID-19.”

That is not true. But it is an effective scare tactic that identity thieves are using to pull off their scams.

As CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman reported Wednesday, federal authorities have launched an investigation.

“We were targeted,” said Jim Podlin.

First, Podlin and his wife Jan were notified by their credit monitoring service that someone had applied for two Discover cards in their names. They never requested the cards.

“They had all our Social Security numbers and all our personal information, and obviously our phone number,” Podlin said.

The scammers obviously had the Podlins’ phone number because someone called this week claiming to be working for his Post Office in Frankfort.

“The gentleman on the other end says the Post Office is closed due to COVID-19 and all the mail is contaminated,” Podlin recalled.

The caller’s pitch continued, “We’re calling everybody on the block and telling them not to pick up their mail and we will come back and pick it up.”

Podlin did not believe it and did pick up his mail. He found a box inside with a credit card for which the thieves had fraudulently applied.

“I think these guys are professional scammers and they come up with a story most people would get scared of,” Podlin said.
We checked it out and found the Frankfort Post Office was open for business. A spokeswoman for U.S. Postal Service confirmed there had been no COVID-19 problem there and she said the mail was not contaminated.

Now, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPI) is investigating the identity thieves.

They put a COVID-19 spin on a classic identity theft scam, using personal information to apply for credit cards so they could charge things and never pay for them.

In these cases, the scammers typically use vacant buildings or homes to direct the credit cards to so they can pick them up without a problem. The Podlins’ home was for sale, but it was not vacant.

So apparently, the scammers had to invent an excuse why someone might be seen going into their mailbox and removing the mail.

“These criminals adapt to whatever is going on in the news at the time and they are using this virus to commit a crime,” said Postal Inspection Service spokeswoman Julie Kenney. “They were trying to get their mail so they could get the credit card or a check or something with their personal information.”

Podlin and his wife did not fall for it, but want to warn others about the ruse.

“It’s a shame they’re using COVID-19 to do that,” Podlin said. “But that’s whats going on.”

With stimulus checks coming in the mail to so many people, the Postal Inspection Service is concerned attempts like this will increase along with other Covid9 cons

Kenney urged anyone who suspects they were a victim of identity theft or mail theft to contact the Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455 or report fraud at www.uspis.gov.