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Watch Out for Change-of-Address Identity Theft Scams!
When it comes to scamming someone, the only limit is the scammer’s imagination. In fact, we wrote only last week about 10 common scams that you should be on the lookout for. It’s not like these people need us to make things easier for them, right?
Well, unfortunately, we make things easy for them all the time. And on particularly egregious example comes directly from the US Postal Service.
Why steal your money when a thief can steal your identity instead?
In the olden days, thieves would want to steal a person’s possessions or their money. But as our financial system has become more and more interconnected, it’s become much easier (and often more profitable) to steal a person’s identity.
Impersonating a person with a good credit score gives you access to tons of loans and credit cards. An identity thief can then use these loans and credit cards to purchase all sorts of goods—without ever being responsible for paying their lenders back. That responsibility, unfortunately, falls on the person whose identity was stolen.
The most important piece of information an identity thief can steal is your social security number—it’s like a password that allows them access to your entire life. But by stealing your address, your driver’s license number, your credit and debit card info, or your online usernames and actual passwords, an identity thief can still do a lot of damage.
Computers now give thieves much more advanced ways to access your information. By sending you a so-called “phishing” email, a thief can gain access to your computer and your email account. If anyone sends you an email asking you to click on a link—even if it looks like it’s coming from your friend’s account—be very, very cautious.
Then again, there is one online method of identity theft that requires barely any hacking at all.
The USPS change-of-address process is easy—and it's easy for scammers too.
If you’ve ever moved, then you’ve had to go online to the website for the United States Postal Service (USPS) to change your address. If you’ve done so, you might have noticed that the process was pretty easy! Just fill out the form, and you're good to go.
Even if you can’t go online to do it, the change-of-address process is still pretty easy! All you need to do is visit your local post office, fill out a change-of-address card, and pop it in the mail.
Once your request has been processed, the USPS will start forwarding your mail to the new address. In order to verify that this request was legit, they will send a Confirmation Notification Letter to the new address. They will also send a Move Validation Letter to the old address.
All in all, it is pretty easy, simple process—which is exactly why it's a huge problem. The process is so easy and so simple that pretty much anyone is able to change your address. Including identity thieves.
Identity thieves will forward your mail to a new address.
When someone steals your identity, there is going to be evidence of their theft. For instance, if they sign up for a new credit card using your real information, you would receive that credit card in the mail as well as a monthly bill. It makes identity theft pretty easy to spot!
But what if that identity thief were able to change your mailing address with USPS to an address that only they can access? All evidence of their identity theft would be hidden from their mark, and those new credit cards would be sent directly to the scammer, allowing them to run up the balances before anyone figures out what’s happening.
And that’s not all. Changing your address actually helps them steal your information in the first place! All of those credit card bills and important documents that are being sent to you in the mail end up in their hands.
A person’s name and address are pretty easy to find. Armed with only that, a scammer can easily access the rest of your personal information by turning your mailbox into their personal treasure trove.
Of course, people tend to notice when they stop getting mail altogether—or when they receive a notice looking to confirm their change-of-address. But those extra days or weeks it takes them to sort the issue out with USPS is sometimes all the time the thief needs to do their thing.
This scam is being run all the time. Over the past year alone, there have been reports of these scams from Cleveland, Chicago, Florida, and New York. So long as the USPS makes changing your address this easy, these scammers will continue to prey on people.
How can you protect yourself from change-of-address scams?
Unfortunately, this is one of the harder identity theft practices to protect yourself against. When you get targeted by a change-of-address scam, you can contact the USPS to notify them that the change was fraudulent. But by that point, a lot of damage might have already been done.
All the same: If you have been made a victim of the scheme, you should contact your local police department as well as the US Postal Inspectors at 1-877-876-2455. You can also go to IdentityTheft.gov and get a personalized plan to address the scam.
The best way to prevent new accounts from being taken out in your name is to sign up for credit monitoring and to have a freeze put on your credit. While the freeze is in place, no new accounts can be opened using your personal information. (If you were a victim in last year’s Equifax hack, you might already have credit monitoring through their TrustedID program.)
Even with credit monitoring, you should also be checking your credit reports regularly. The goods news is that you get one free copy of your credit report every year from each credit bureau. To request a copy, just visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
Lastly, protect your home address from scammers by keeping a close watch on your mail. Don’t let it build up in your mailbox or on your front porch for days at a time. Collect it promptly and bring it inside.
We also recommend that you invest in a paper shredder. Once you’re done with your mail, just pop it in the machine and watch your sensitive personal information vanish. Just throwing away your mail isn't good enough. Identity thieves are not above digging through your trash to find your info.
Like we said up top, there are so many ways for a person to scam you and steal your identity. Don’t make it easier for them.