As humans we may have been around for a while, but one thing that seems to have not ended, is fraud. There will always be people, with illicit motives trying to take advantage of a widow or other vulnerable members of society, given the opportunity.
Today we will be discussing address fraud; a growing plague that is the leading contributing factor responsible for mail theft.
What Is Address Fraud?
It is the illegal and unauthorized request to change someone’s mailing address, without their consent.
The way this works is, individuals with bad intentions will complete a USPS change of address without the resident’s agreement. Going in person to a post office location is the easiest way for someone to follow through with this form of identity theft. They will simply fill out the 1583 form and have all mail redirected from your address to their address. That means that all credit card information, your social security number (etc.) are now at their hands to use as they wish.
What is troubling, is the ease with which someone can request a change of address without your knowledge. All they need essentially, is your name and street address; they’ll handle the rest…
The good news is, the only way for someone to complete a change of address successfully without you being notified of it, is offline. So there is no way that someone across the world can complete such a process off of their computer. That is due to the $1 verification charge that the USPS website will enable, to verify your information and bank account.
The statistics are troubling; over 700 changes of address completed every year are fraudulent. What is more troubling than that, is the fact that the number of address fraud complaints filled each year, is at a little over 17,000. So clearly the difficulty in tracking such activity is quite high.
Why Would Someone Use Your Mailing Address?
At first glance, it may not seem like a big problem. Who uses snail mail in 2020 anyway…right?
All of your government paperwork (including IRS notices,) come through the mail. So, although you may be getting your bank statements online, most likely you are also getting some kind of bank information in the mail. Oftentimes, such information will include your social security number, passport information etc (to name a few.) Other information would include healthcare statements (including Medicare.)
Such information can be used for the purpose of changing your financial information, signing up for credit cards you did not want and charging you for services you did not use. Essentially, they get full control of your identity and can act in any way they like, under your name.
How Do I Find Out If Someone Changed My Mailing Address?
Fraudulent change of address can be distressing. But it is somewhat hard to know if this has happened to you. So, let’s look at some of the ways you can find out if you have been a victim of change of address fraud.
Typically, the USPS will send out verification letters with the request of each address change, to confirm that a resident actually completed such a request. Such move validation notices can help prevent the approval of the address change, if this was not requested by you. In the event where you do get such a letter, make sure you reach out to your local post office branch to let them know!
Another good way to tell if your address has been changed, is if you stop receiving mail. Considering that a change of address has been completed, that means that you no longer get mail to your mailbox. If you start noticing that, then chances are someone completed a change of address on your behalf. Similar suspicious activity such as change of billing address for your current credit cards, or new account sign up notifications (credit cards, loyalty programs etc.) can be signals that you have been the victim of address fraud.
If no suspicious activity (as listed above) is taking place, then you can still check the postal records, and lookup the address under which you come up. If you need to reach their customer support phone number, you can call (800) ASK-USPS.
Is It Illegal for Someone to Use Your Mailing Address?
Technically, it isn’t explicitly illegal for someone to use your address. However, using a mail address without permission or using it as your own when it isn’t, could be deemed address fraud. In some states, it would result in jail time!
Having said this, they do have to cause damage.
What do we mean by this? Well, if someone is performing illegal mail forwarding with your address, it could be because they are trying to evade some taxes or want their children to get into a better public school. This is damage caused by mail forwarding scams. Sometimes, people will even use your address because they have to “prove” that they have a residence.
What To Do If Someone Is Using Your Home Address Fraudulently
Being a victim of address fraud, essentially means that you become a victim of mail theft, identity theft, and all sorts of financial crimes. Getting an issue like this taken care of, is not something to be handled lightly.
Unfortunately, although the post office will be able to detect whether a change of address has been completed or not, they won’t be able to do much with identifying what address your mailing address has been changed to nor will they be able to do something about it. In order to handle this situation you will want to reach out to the Postal Inspection Service and they would be more suitable to deal with your situation.
How Do I Stop Someone from Using My Address?
If you are constantly receiving letters, parcels and packages addressed to someone else or you are 100% certain someone is practising fraudulent mail forwarding with your address, there are things you can do. We are going to take a look at what options you have.
Ready? Let’s get into the specifics.
Firstly, you need to write “not at this address” or “return to sender” on all the letters and packages you falsely receive. Then, you should leave them in your mailbox so the mailman can collect them. Alternatively, you can hand them to the mailman if you manage to catch him or her the next day. When you do see the postman, state that the recipient of the mail doesn’t live at your home.
Secondly, do not open any renewal notices or other government notices that arrive at your home addressed to the man or woman using your address. Contact whoever it is that is sending the letters (the number or address will be on the back of the envelope usually) and state that the addressee does not live with you.
The next step, if you keep receiving unwanted mail is to visit your nearest United States Postal Service office to launch a complaint. They should be able to stop the parcels, packages, and letters from persisting.
Alternatively, if you believe that you are a victim of change of address scams, you should contact the United States Postal Inspect Service. The number is (877) 876-2455 or you can click here to fill out the report online. You will need to give the following information:
- Company name (optional)
- First name
- Last name
- Address including city, state, zip code and country
- Cell phone (optional)
- Work phone (optional)
- Email address (optional)
- Age range
- Whether or not you’re a veteran
- Information of the person or company you are filing against (if known)
- The method of contact
- When you were contacted
- Whether you still have the envelope
- How you responded
- Whether you mailed the response to a different address
- Whether or not you have a tracking number
- What you received
- Was any money involved
- Was any money lost
- What fraud scheme category it falls into (charity fraud, sweepstakes, harassment, educational fraud, employment fraud, false bill, etc.)
- Scheme type (the options differ depending on what category you pick)
- Any additional information
For many people, this has proved to be quite a lot when their minds are full of USPS false change of address scams and illegal activity. Therefore, the phone call optional might be a better one for you.
Finally, if you realize that someone is using your address for their proof of residence, insurance, or driver’s license, you need to contact the police. We strongly advise you to use a non-emergency number as technically this is not an emergency (even if it feels like it to you). They will be able to tell you the laws in your state and figure out whether someone is committing a crime or not.
How to Report Someone Fraudulently Using Your Address
Calling your local post office won’t do much to actually report the person or entity who is using your address illegally. For this, you will need to call the United States Postal Inspection Service. You can find the number in the previous section, as well as the information you will need to provide if you choose to fill out the online form instead.
The more information you can give them, the better they can track down the culprit. Also, we suggest that you have any information about credit card or sensitive data breaches relating to this incident to hand as well.
How To Avoid Address Fraud
There are a few ways to avoid becoming a victim of address fraud. While you might be able to come up with better ways but we’ve found that our tips have worked a crazy amount. Are you curious? We bet you are! Don’t fret, we are going to divulge all our secrets now.
To start with, you need to be extremely careful about who you share your information with. While you can’t cut out the fact that some people will know where you live, you should implement the following steps to hide it as best you can.
- Don’t share your home address anywhere By now, every internet user knows that whatever you put out there, millions of people can search for, find, and see. You may think the information is somewhat protected but, in all reality, it isn’t.
- Share your address with close friends and family only.
- Use a temporary email address. Sometimes, companies ask you to input your email address for registrations or purchases. This can easily link back to your home address. To combat this, you can go to sites like mailinator.com to acquire a disposable email which will help protect your identity.
- Last but by far the best option is to get a virtual mailbox! We’re going to chat about that now — trust us, it’s a biggie.
The Best Solution
The only way to ensure that you avoid being the victim of address fraud with 100% certainty, is that you do not receive any mail at all; something that is impossible.
Or is it…?
More and more people have been switching to Virtual Mailbox solutions. Whether due to security concerns, convenience, or the fact that a virtual mailbox generally costs ½ what it costs to maintain a physical mailbox, the digital mailbox revolution is well under way.
The way virtual mailboxes work is that all mail you receive are forwarded to a secure warehouse processing facility. From there, it is scanned and uploaded into a Gmail – like inbox. You can label all your documents and access on demand 24/7. Additional features usually include mail shredding (for documents with sensitive information), check deposits and shipping. Due to the volume of mail that virtual mailbox companies process, they can usually offer up to 80% off retail shipping rates.