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Posted on January 21, 2015 by in Identity & Privacy, Personal

Did you know that change of address cards — available at any post office for when you’re switching addresses — can create major headaches for you? The reason is address fraud.

Identity thieves have been known to use change of address cards to reroute mail, capturing personal information along the way. Unlike the U.S. Postal Service’s online change of address forms — which require verification with a minimal bank withdrawal — the physical cards only need a signature and aren’t even compared with any known signature records. Because the cards can be mailed into a post office, identity thieves don’t have to risk showing up in person and can divert mail almost immediately.

In an effort to shut down change of address fraud scams, the U.S. Postal Service now sends a “move validation letter” to both an old and new address when a change is filed. The letter includes a toll-free number to call if the change wasn’t authorized.

However, those letters take at least a few days to arrive, and sometimes a few weeks. In the meantime, the mail is being sent to the “new” address. That mail can include bank statements, credit card bills, retirement account statements, personal correspondence, and other items that could give a thief plenty of information for creating a profile on a victim. With that data, the thief might sign up for new credit cards, make changes to the victim’s financial accounts or engage in medical identity theft.

Here are some ways to spot this address fraud and squelch it as quickly as possible before it turns into identity theft:

Look for changes in your mail volume. Most people have days where they don’t get any mail. But with the prevalence of direct mail marketing, bills and statements, it’s rare to have no mail at all for more than a few days. If your mail volume has dropped to nothing for an extended period, call your local post office to ask whether a change of address form has been filed for your address.

Check your credit report. Although some charges take time to show up on your credit report, it’s often possible to see whether new accounts have been opened recently or if credit checks have been done. If you see any fraudulent activity, report the situation immediately to the credit bureaus. Also, call your credit card issuers and banks to put them on alert that fraud may be occurring. In addition, take the time to place a credit freeze.

File a report. If your identity is compromised by a change of address scam, immediately call the Postal Inspection Service or report the incident online. It takes only a few minutes to fill out the online form. (This creates a record of the complaint, which will be helpful for submitting to credit card companies or banks.)

Limit your incoming mail. Regardless of whether you’ve been hit by identity theft, it’s often advisable to reduce the amount of sensitive information delivered through the mail. You can do this by switching to electronic-only bank and credit card statements.

Although change of address fraud is less common than some other methods of identity theft, it can be a real pain. With our identity theft services, you can minimize the risk of becoming a victim and get help if trouble strikes.

Image courtesy of Flickr user theilr.

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