One day, your mail isn’t delivered and never resumes. A short time later you discover that your credit cards are rejected. You call these companies and find out that your billing address has been changed. A month later you receive a letter from the U.S. Postal Service asking you to validate your change of address.
If any of these things have happened to you or someone you know, you’re very likely the victim of “change of address” fraud, a growing identity theft threat.
How it works
The U.S. Postal Service makes it incredibly easy for people to change their address—including yours. Anyone can get a change of address form from their local post office and redirect mail from anyone—including you—to a different address.
The USPS doesn’t check to make sure that the address-changer is legitimate, other than sending a “move validation” card to both the original and changed address. But it can take weeks for these cards to be sent. In the meantime, your mail is re-directed to the scammer at his new location.
The consequences of inaction
If you don’t act quickly to head off the damage of a change-of-request scam, the following can occur.
- The scammer will start receiving your forwarded paystubs and benefits, banking, credit card and investment statements and check payments, possibly giving them enough information to formally change the address on record for these accounts.
- If any of this stolen mail has your Social Security number, they may be able to open new accounts under your name and gain access to your online accounts.
- A vindictive scammer may be able to steal money from your savings and investment accounts or cancel your insurance policies.
Contain the damage
If mail delivery ceases for more than a few days, immediately take the following steps to determine if you’ve been the victim of change-of-address fraud.
- Contact your local post office and ask if a change of address request has been submitted.
- If a fraudulent request has been made, report it online at the U.S. Postal Inspectors web site or call them at 1-877-876-2455.
- Contact banks, credit card companies, and any other financial services companies or advisors you work with to let them know this fraud has occurred.
- Contact the three main credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and Transunion, and ask them for their help in heading off any possible changes to your credit card accounts.
Unfortunately, at this time, there is no easy way for you to keep scammers from changing your address or committing other kinds of mail fraud. But there are things you can do to reduce the potential damage such fraud can cause.
- Use direct deposit for all incoming payments, including paychecks and benefits payments.
- Choose paperless delivery for all banking, investment and credit statements. These statements will be sent only to your email address or you can login to your online accounts and access them there (of course, you’ll want to make sure you’re using a strong password to thwart hackers from accessing your account).
Lastly, make sure all of your banking, credit card and investment statements are stored in a secure location that can’t easily be found by cleaners and other service people who come to your house. If you wish to get rid of old statements, cut them up or shred them first before disposing of them. The best protection against mail fraud is eliminating opportunities for scammers to make you its next victim.
This article was authored by Michael Flaherty and Jeffrey Briskin. Michael is a financial advisor and Partner located at Canby Financial Advisors, 161 Worcester Road, Framingham, MA 01701. He offers securities and advisory services as an Investment Adviser Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. He can be reached at 508.598.1082 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Jeffrey Briskin is Director of Marketing at Canby Financial Advisors.
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