By Officer Larry Jacobs, SSPD

As employers, banks and other financial institutions mail out 2010 tax documents, you shouldn’t just be thinking about preparing your taxes and the refund to come.

You should also think about how to protect information-packed documents from opportunistic identity thieves, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.

The center says that thieves have been known to follow letter carriers this time of the year. They then look through mailboxes while the addressees are at work or away from home.

Sometimes, they might snoop in the middle of the night in residential mail boxes that have been left full after mail is not picked up by owners the same day.

Some of the people that are looking to steal valuable identification information have been known to open envelopes, copy documents and then reseal the mail and put it back in the mailbox. Someone who is the victim in this identification theft may not even know that the sensitive information has been stolen.

The question is: How do you go about better securing your mail? The Identity Theft Resource Center and Adam Levin of Identity Theft 911 and Credit.com have a few answers.

Stop receiving mail and go paperless: Levin recommends having official year-end financial documents sent directly to you via e-mail, if that’s an option.

Consider a P.O. Box: The Identity Theft Resource Center recommends renting a box at the post office and using that to receive sensitive mail. A P.O. Box at a mail store is not recommended for receiving these type documents.

Hold Mail: Just as you would when going on vacation, consider having the mail held at the post office when you are expecting to receive information-sensitive documents. Mail for the post office can’t be picked up without photo identification.

Secure mail: Consider installing a strong, locked mailbox at your residence. The method is recommended by the Identity Theft Resource Center for securing mail.

Track your mail: Levin recommends writing down a list of the important pieces of mail you expect to receive in future months and checking off each one as it arrives. If anything seems delayed and you suspect mail theft, call the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.

Pick up your mail daily: If you don’t plan on having mail held or it being delivered electronically or sent to a P.O. Box, don’t leave it in your mailbox overnight.

Larry Jacobs is an officer in the crime prevention unit of the Sandy Springs Police Department.