When you suddenly stop receiving mail or you get a weird request confirmation notification from USPS, you’re probably dealing with a change-of-address scam.
Around 23,000 change-of-address scams occurred last year. But why should you take change-of-address scams seriously?
Someone pretending to be you can have access to all your personal data and make changes to your transactions, including financial ones.
This is why you should be more cautious than you already are. As the medical industry would often say, “prevention is better than cure.”
Although change-of-address (COA) scams could be done by anyone who wants to access all your data, there are still ways to protect yourself from them.
Read on to find out what one important precaution people often overlook to protect yourself and your loved ones from COA scams. We’ve also provided tips that you can use today to prevent yourself from being a victim.
But first, what is a change-of-address scam?
A COA scams is when someone submits a change of address request to the U.S. Postal Address (USPS) under your name. It would only be possible if these fraudsters had your full name and address at their disposal.
Even though there are more confirmations needed when the change of address is requested online, mail-in requests are not that secured—you just get confirmation that the request was finalized after several business days.
Online change of address requests requires a payment straight from your bank account for them to review if the address in the bank account matches the address where the COA request came from.
So, if the perpetrators already have both your address and credit/debit card details, they could still make the change of address request online.
Once the change of address becomes successful, and they are able to use their own address, they can redirect all your mail, including the ones with sensitive information, such as billing statements, to their own home or site.
What happens when they successfully change your address?
After they get access to your mail, thieves can gather more information from you, and their change-of-address scam can easily turn into identity theft in no time.
Scammers could pretend to be you
Scammers could have access to your bank statements, personal identification (e.g., renewal of driver’s license, passports, etc.), and other private information that they can use to pretend to be you.
What’s worse is that they could commit other crimes using your identity. You can imagine how stressful it would be trying to prove you’re not responsible.
Thieves could commit financial fraud
Thieves could request credit or debit card replacements under your name. They could open a new phone plan under your name (where they could get an expensive phone).
They could charge their own electricity or gas under your name. They could steal your tax refund or even use your healthcare privileges.
They could ruin your future banking transactions
If they were able to manage your bank activities, it could badly hurt your credit score.
Your future transactions, including car financing, using or acquiring insurance, or getting a mortgage loan, could also be compromised.
The things that someone could do if they have your information are endless, and you should be afraid of them.
How can you tell if you already fall victim to a change-of-address scam?
Acting fast is key to preventing damages due to change-of-address scams, and that starts with awareness.
Here are some signs that you’re already a victim and should do something about it:
You received a confirmation mail of the change-of-address request
As mentioned, thieves can do mail-in change-of-address requests on your behalf, and you’ll just receive a confirmation from USPS regarding this change.
You must report it immediately to avoid redirecting your mail to the new address.
You don’t get regular mail to your address as you used to
If you’re not receiving any mail for a period of time, even the ones you’re expecting regularly, such as billing statements, it could mean that these were already forwarded to the new address.
You get notifications of transactions you never made
If there are bank transactions that you don’t remember doing and you get notified by it, it could mean that you’re already an identity theft victim.
If you think your identity has been compromised, you can look into the change-of-address scam. You must check if your address remains unchanged with your financial institutions and other businesses you deal with, particularly USPS.
What can you do to prevent a change-of-address scam?
You can take a few security measures to prevent COA from happening to you.
Secure your mail and try going paperless
Having a mailbox is a must, and it’s better if you have your own lock and key to it, so no one other than you and your family can access it.
You should collect your mail as regularly as possible. You must avoid having them pile up to the extent that mail doesn’t fit in and be left unsecured outside your mailbox. Someone could get these mail if they remained uncollected.
If you’re more comfortable with technology, you can opt for paperless statements instead of mail-in ones. With that, there’s no physical paper trail of your information, but you have to keep your email secure too.
Shred your mail
Securing your mail doesn’t end with locking your mail. You should also be careful about disposing of them. Your mail could pile up and end up in a clutter if you don’t get rid of them.
If you don’t need some of them anymore, shred them before throwing them out.
This way, no one could steal your identity from your own trash. Anyone could access your trash once they’re out.
Don’t underestimate the dedication of these thieves in getting your personal information—diving into the trash won’t be a big deal for them if they want to steal your identity.
Check every mail as much as possible
You may receive lots of mail, especially direct marketing mail, and you might not feel like opening all of them. However, it’s important to check them to make sure you don’t miss important ones, such as USPS notifications.
As mentioned, mail-in change-of-address requests aren’t as secure as online requests. Confirmations through mail-in requests are also sent via mail, so checking any notification regarding this matter could help you intercept a COA scam that’s about to happen on your doorstep.
Avoid unsecured websites
Having your address changed by a stranger doesn’t only revolve around securing your actual mail.
As discussed, your full name, complete address, and bank details could be used in a change-of-address scam, and all this could be obtained through phishing and hacking.
So, you must ensure you’re accessing a secured website. You must also have security tools on your personal computer, which can notify you if there are chances that the website you’re about to access is not secured.
There are also plenty of ways to detect phishing or unsecured websites.
For instance, some of these websites appear legitimate by copying an already existing, authentic website.
So, you could probably see a “bank0famerica.com” instead of the legitimate one – “bankofamerica.com.” See the use of zero instead of “o”?
These hackers often use a cheap copy of existing websites to appear more legitimate, so be careful about noticing these little details.
If a website also asks for personal information, such as bank details or identification number, even if you’re not about to purchase or sign up for anything yet, it’s one sign that it could be a phishing website.
Set up regular notification alerts on your financial accounts
Setting up notification alerts on your credit and debit cards can help ensure that all your transactions are made by you or your family.
Yes, regular notifications could be annoying, especially if you already know that you made the transaction, but this could help you immediately take action once a fraudulent transaction occurs.
If you receive any suspicious notification regarding any change of address, and you don’t remember doing it on your own, make sure to report it to your local post office, or you may directly contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 1-877-876-2455 or through their website.
And if you’re already affected by this change-of-address scam, you could try freezing your bank accounts temporarily to avoid future fraudulent transactions. You may also sign up for credit monitoring services so you can easily detect if new accounts were made under your name.
Having to deal with a stolen identity is too much hassle (or worse, a nightmare)—it could really disrupt your life and the life of the people around you. It’s better to prevent it by setting up precautionary measures and protecting your personal information.
Don’t fall victim to change-of-address scams by following the tips we mentioned. And if you think you already are, don’t hesitate to contact your local post office and other relevant authorities.