fraudsters can change your addressIdentity thieves are sneaky and prone to coming up with all sorts of inventive tricks to wreck their victim’s lives, and one of the oldest forms of fraud is mail theft. With the advent of the Internet, that can be taken to a whole new level since thieves no longer have to rely on taking mail directly from your mailbox — instead, they can easily fill out a simple form online to change your address and redirect your mail wherever they want, paying just $1 for the convenience. You might be wondering just what an identity thief can get out of changing your address, as well as what you can do to protect yourself if it happens to you. Keep reading as we explore the ins and outs of change of address fraud.

How can a thief change your address

The United States Postal Office (USPS) has made the process of redirecting your mail when you move streamlined and simple; instead of standing in line at your local post office to fill out the forms in person, you can log onto the USPS website and complete a digital request in minutes. All a person needs is your current address and your name, as well as a valid credit or debit card. The identity verification process is merely the use of a valid payment card; it does not require that the payment card be billed to the current or new address. Since no social security numbers are involved with the process, knowledge-based questions are not used, which means there is relatively little information a thief would need to change your address successfully. Even if they were, given that these questions are typically based on easily discovered public records information, it would still be a relatively insecure process ripe for exploitation. It is worth mentioning that change of address forms work by redirecting your mail for a set period of time — generally a maximum of a year for both permanent or temporary address changes — and not all mail will be redirected.

What are the criminal’s benefits from doing this?

Changing your address can benefit a fraudster in a couple of ways. First, it can help hide identity theft-related activities, such as opening credit cards or utility accounts in your name, filing fraudulent tax returns and more. If mail is diverted to the address of a thief’s choosing, they can prevent you from discovering the fraud and buy themselves extra time to reap the benefits of their crimes. Second, diverting your mail means that a thief can intercept all kinds of letters and even packages containing valuable information which can help them commit fraud in your name. This can be achieved through stealing your mail directly out of your mailbox, of course, but that carries far more of an immediate risk to a thief than filing a change of address form.

Is it possible to tell that my address has been changed?

Fortunately, the USPS does send a confirmation letter to both the old and new address via postal mail when a change of address is requested. If you receive one of these and you have not recently made an address change request online or in person at a post office, chances are you’ve become a victim of address change fraud. It’s important to contact USPS immediately to let them know that you did not request an address change — either over the phone, or by navigating to the website and using the confirmation number to cancel the request. If you are someone who receives a lot of junk mail or has a tendency to let your mail pile up, you could wind up missing a change of address confirmation, so let this be a reminder that you should stay on top of your real-world inbox.

What can I do to protect myself from mailing address fraud?

There are some steps you can take to proactively protect yourself against this and other types of fraud.

  • Take note of missing mail. It can be easy to lose track, especially if you receive a lot of junk mail mixed in with legitimate correspondence, but if you notice that your mailbox isn’t as full as it used to be anymore, or letters you are expecting fail to show up, that could be a sign that your mail is being diverted elsewhere. If you know of specific mail that isn’t getting to you, such as your monthly credit card statement, you can contact the company directly to verify the address it has listed.
  • Review your credit reports on a regular basis. Since one of the more significant benefits to a criminal of changing your address is the ability to open new accounts using your information without your knowledge, regular reviewing of your credit reports can help you catch any suspicious changes. It’s a good idea to view your credit reports at least once per year, though the use of an identity theft protection service with continuous credit monitoring can ensure that any new information — including changes in your address that wind up in public records — will trigger an alert immediately.
  • Freeze your credit. We’ve discussed this at length recently thanks to the Equifax breach, but it’s always worth repeating. Placing a freeze on your credit reports ensures that no new credit accounts or inquiries can be performed using your information. Though it won’t prevent someone from diverting your mail with a fraudulent change of address, they won’t be able to open a new credit card or cell phone account in your name, since that will require a credit check.

Unfortunately, identity theft isn’t something you can 100% prevent, but you can take steps to protect yourself and your identity. Learn more about how to keep your information safe by following our identity theft protection blog.