You’re probably aware and familiar with the process of changing your address. When you relocate, you must notify & inform the post office of your new correspondence address. This will ensure that all of your mail gets routed correctly and that you don’t miss anything important. It’s a simple & easy process, you need to fill out a form either online or in person, and the post office will handle the rest—which is excellent news when you’re in the midst of a stressful move. However, when changing the address, you also become susceptible to address fraud and all of the complications that come with it.
Address fraud is when someone uses a fictitious or incorrect address for financial gain or benefit. A fictitious address is a non-existent location. An incorrect address could be, for example, a previous address that was never updated or the address of a friend or relative. Address fraud can be committed in various ways, and it is a crime in the majority of jurisdictions. Fines and imprisonment are imposed depending on the severity of the crime.
Opening a bank or credit account with a false or stolen address is a typical example of address fraud. Someone may submit a credit application with another person or fictitious address. Another common practice is to steal documents containing personal information and use their identity as one’s own when applying for credit. Once approved, the perpetrator can incur debt in the name of another person and avoid paying the charges.
Address fraud is also prevalent in school enrollment. For their children to attend certain schools, many parents or guardians claim addresses in public school districts where they do not live. This practice is controversial because many schools only have a limited number of student slots. Because those slots are supposed to be reserved for district residents, providing a false address is illegal and unfair to those placed on waiting lists or denied admission to preferred schools.
False addresses are frequently used by bogus businesses, as are other forms of fraud. Many of them move around a lot, which isn’t necessarily a scam sign. They may, however, use a fictitious address as a “warehouse” or misrepresent a residential address as a business address by using a mail drop instead of a post office box number.
To avoid addressing fraud, you must first understand what to look for. It’s a remarkably simple crime to commit, and the longer you go without notice, the more damage an identity thief can cause. Here’s how to safeguard yourself.
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What is address fraud?
Address fraud is a type of identity theft in which someone uses the address change process to navigate your mail to a different address. Once your mail has been diverted, they can open it to obtain additional information about you, such as your credit card or your social security number.
All a person needs is your name and current address to do it. Then, availing of the mail-in change of address form facility available at the post office, they can change your address without you knowing for days or even weeks. Because the online change of address form requires a $1 verification fee from your bank account, this scam is only successful with the mail-in form.
It’s difficult to find statistics on how common address fraud is. According to a report by KPIX, a San Francisco news channel, this type of fraud occurs far more frequently than the post office would like to admit. It was previously reported that approximately 750 of the 37 million change of address requests received at the United States Postal Service (USPS) potentially be fraudulent. However, according to data obtained by KPIX through the Freedom of Information Act, the USPS receives far more address fraud complaints than that—a total of 17,077 in just one year.
There are several other reasons why people commit address fraud. Automobile insurance regulations, for example, differ by state in the United States. As a result, many people file claims or establish addresses in states with less stringent regulations to avoid the costs of maintaining insurance. Political motivations can also encourage addressing fraud. Address fraud is frequently committed by criminals to conceal their whereabouts from law enforcement officials. In such cases, voters vote in precincts where they do not reside.
Address fraud is one of the most straightforward crimes for criminals to commit regarding identity theft. The same factors that make changing your address so simple also allow for exploitable flaws in the process. An identity thief can redirect your mail to wherever they want it to go using only your current address and a forged signature.
The main issue with addressing fraud is the wealth of information it could potentially expose. A scammer can use any vital information to change your financial accounts, apply for new credit cards, and many more. Pay stubs, healthcare and Medicare statements, credit card statements, and loan statements all contain information that can be used to your advantage. If you’re not paying attention, you might not realize what’s going on until considerable damage has been done.
The USPS has made some efforts to reduce address fraud, most notably by sending move validation letters to your previous and new addresses when you request a change. However, those letters can take weeks to arrive, giving criminals plenty of time to sift through your information. Furthermore, some identity thieves have discovered a way around the letter by placing a vacation hold on all mail to your current address.
Preventing address fraud necessitates vigilance. Here are sure warning signs that someone is attempting to divert your mail.
You get a letter confirming your move. If you get an unwarranted move validation letter, don’t just chalk it up to a typo on the part of the post office. If you receive one and haven’t requested a change of address, contact your local post office. They should be able to convey to you whether or not a change of address form was filed on your behalf reasonably quickly.
You no longer receive mail. As more businesses go paperless, you may receive less mail than you used to. However, if you observe a decrease in the volume of mail you receive, or if it’s been a few days and you are yet to receive any mail (which is unusual for you), contact your post office to find out what’s going on.
Your credit card’s billing address has changed. When they try to use the credit card and their billing address or zip code no longer works, some people realize they’ve been victims of address fraud. If you receive a notification that your billing address is incorrect and you know you haven’t changed it, contact your bank immediately—possibly an identity thief changed the information. You may want to close your card as soon as possible.
You are notified that an account in your name has been opened. Scammers may use the information obtained through address fraud to open new accounts in your name at stores or banks. Again, don’t assume it’s a mistake if you get notified about something you didn’t sign up for—ask the company about it. You can call your post office to check about potential address fraud if it’s truly legitimate.
As with all forms of identity theft, there is no way to protect yourself from possible address fraud completely—but there are some things you can do to reduce your risk.
Paperless billing and communications are now commonplace, so making the switch should be simple. With the important documents, go paperless. Request that all bank statements, loan statements, health-related records, and anything else containing sensitive information about you be delivered to your email address rather than your physical mailbox.
Take care who you give your information to. You can’t completely prevent others from discovering your current home address and other personal information, but you can take some precautions. Don’t, for example, leave mail or other documentation with your current address out in the open. And, before you put anything containing sensitive information in your recycling bin, run it through the shredder.
What should be done if you are a victim of address fraud?
We hope you never have to deal with such a scenario. However, act quickly if you discover that someone has rerouted your mail.
You may immediately call your local post office to determine whether your address has been changed, but do note that they will not tell you what your address has been changed to, nor will they be able to act on your complaint. You’ll need to contact your local US Postal Inspection Service office, which you can find here. You can call the US Postal Inspection Service’s general number at 877-876-2455 and (select “4” to report your mail fraud), you can also file an online report.
It would be best to provide as much information to the Postal Inspection Service as possible, so keep detailed notes about any evidence of fraud you notice, including confirmation that a change of address form was filed with your post office. If you’ve had problems with your credit card or other personal information, as a result, be prepared to provide details.
Always be alert for signs of fraud. And, if you have any suspicions, seek help right away.
Address fraud and identity theft are linked to several other types of crimes, and they are punishable under the laws of the jurisdiction in question. For example, in the United States, the penalties vary depending on whether the crime is a misdemeanour or a felony. Someone convicted of these types of crimes, for example, could be convicted of robbery and ordered to make restitution to the victim. Felony convictions, on the other hand, may result in incarceration.
Frequently Asked Questions
What would a con artist do with my address?
According to Velasquez, a thief with a name and address can change your address through the US Postal Service and redirect mail to their preferred address. With access to your financial mail, the scammer can intercept bank statements, credit card offers, or bills and order new checks and credit cards.
What is the most common method of detecting fraud?
Employee tips are the most common way occupational frauds are discovered, followed by internal audit, management review, and then accidental discovery; external audit is the eighth most common way occupational frauds are discovered.
Alex Sherr is the founder of My Long Distance Movers, a blog that provides moving information and resources for people who are relocating. He has more than two decades of experience in the moving and relocation industry, and he is passionate about helping people relocate smoothly and efficiently. When he's not writing or blogging, Alex enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children.