Anyone can walk into any U.S. post office and complete a change of address (COA) form to reroute your mail. Your sensitive documents would then be delivered to a new address that might be selected by a crook to gather information needed to steal your identity.
All that’s needed to do this is your name, your address and a forged signature on the form. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) does not require any identification. Instead, you’ll be mailed a notice confirming the change of address. But that is easy to miss, or ignore. If you do nothing, the change goes forward.
How likely is this to happen? Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of COA requests (fewer than 37,000) are reported to the USPS as suspicious every year. But you should still be on guard. An audit by the USPS inspector general in 2008 found that weaknesses in the way addresses were changed could “contribute to identity theft.”
So, how can you protect yourself?
Don’t toss USPS notices
After a COA request is processed, the USPS sends an address-change confirmation to both your address and the forwarding address. Be careful not to mistake it for junk mail.
Note missing mail
Letters addressed to “Occupant” or “Resident” will keep coming after the COA is completed. But if you get no mail addressed to your name for several consecutive days, contact your post office to determine if you’ve been victimized.
Routinely check your credit rating and review credit card bills for unexplained activity. And if you haven’t already, put a freeze on your credit reports.
These are essential tasks that will help protect you from financial fraud.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.