A Post Office change of address form could put you at risk for idenity theft

Posted at 11:32 PM, Sep 13, 2016

We have a U.S. Post Office privacy alert to tell you about. It's a loophole that could put your mail and personal information in the hands of criminals.

It all starts with a change of address form.

The feds say there have been victims here in metro Detroit - including an elderly woman who it happened to twice. 

None of them wanted to talk with us on camera because they were understandably embarrassed - some even afraid. But what we can tell you is their identities were taken by scammers who changed their addresses using the form from the Post Office.

“Most people get mail every day. If you notice you haven’t received mail in a few days, you need to reach out to your post office immediately,” says US Postal Inspector Wylie Christopher.

That’s a red flag that you could be part of a Post Office scam.

“What we have seen occur is that some scam artists, they will commit other types of crimes and, in an effort from keeping these victims from finding out about these crimes, they will put in a fraudulent change of address,” Christopher.

Christopher is an inspector for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service – the federal law enforcement agency responsible for protecting the post office and its customers.

He says 37 million people across the country change their address every year and from that they get about 750 reports of change of address fraud.

“Of those complaints most of them were domestic in nature, family disputes, friends,” says Christopher.

So here’s how the mail-muggers steal your identity. They go to the post office and fill out an official mail forwarding change of address order form, then hand it over to a worker – and get this we’ve learned they don't need to show any ID. The U.S. Postal Service confirms it.

That means your mail, including bills and personal information, can easily be forwarded to someone ready to take your identity.

“If a change of address takes place, a address verification is sent to the original address through US mail and that letter is also sent to the new address,” Christopher says.

That should happen, but in some cases the scammers are so sophisticated they will go as far as placing your mail on hold – which prevents you from seeing the change-of-address alert letter.

“If you receive bills you have no knowledge of you need to reach out to that financial institution immediately,” Christopher says.

And inspectors say there are serious consequences for anyone who takes any piece of mail that's not theirs.

“If you steal mail, commit a false change of address you violate a federal statute, it’s punishable by up to 5 years in prison and be fined,” says Christopher. “If you commit a crime that involves the use of United States Mail you will be found out, you will be prosecuted.”

The U.S. Postal Service says they don’t have any plans in place yet where folks have to show identification when they’re changing their address in person. 

However they encourage people to do it online, where identity verifications are always required.

In the meantime, inspectors say if you feel like you’ve been a victim of any type of postal-related crime, contact them right away.

You can make complaints to the US Postal Service at 1-877-876-2455.